Many devotees of choral music and members of choral societies will be familiar with some, if not all, of Handel’s ‘Chandos’ Anthems. Quite separate from those, however, is the ‘Chandos’ Te Deum, so called because it was written – like those Anthems – whilst its composer was in the employ of James Brydges, the Duke of Chandos, at his magnificent new house at Cannons Park, Edgware. After the Duke’s and his son’s financial decline the house was gradually dismantled and only the parish church, St Lawrence at Stanmore (today at the end of London’s Jubilee line) still stands. It is fitting, then, that this release was recorded in that venue.
These performances also use forces that are numerically commensurate with those which Handel would have had at his disposal when working at Cannons during 1717 and 1718. In fact there were not even any alto singers available for much of that time, and so this Te Deum setting, like most of the Anthems, exclude that part from the chorus, but make up for it by dividing the tenor part instead (into three in the case of the Te Deum).
The results here are renditions conducted by Adrian Butterfield which, in their one-to-a-part format, are sprightly and light-footed. At first one might expect a broader tonal palette in the great Christian hymn of praise that is the Te Deum, particularly in view of the composer’s better-known ‘Utrecht’ and ‘Dettingen’ settings. But once one’s ears adjust to the more intimate scale of this interpretation of the ‘Chandos’ in the fairly closed acoustic of the church, it takes on a generally exuberant life of its own, as in the opening chorus and “Thou art the King of Glory”. The choral textures sometimes sound wan, but they provide effective points of contrast against the more extrovert sections. A good example is the a cappella passage on “When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death” in a pallid minor key, which then bursts into life in the major at “Thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven”, a procedure which Handel surely recalled when reflecting on the Resurrection again over twenty years later when he came to write the sequence ‘As in Adam all die’ from Messiah.
The five vocal soloists are cohesive when singing together as a chorus and make distinctive contributions when taking the solo roles. The veteran Charles Daniels remains instantly recognisable if not always rising above a nasal strain that slightly holds back the free and expansive flow of Handel’s often florid music. Nicholas Mulroy projects a declamatory fervour, contrasting with Grace Davidson’s tender dialogue with an oboe and violins in ‘When though tookest upon thee’, and with Benedict Hymas and Edward Grint’s dependable lower lines.
The dramatic alternation between solo and choral numbers, prefaced by a lengthy instrumental prelude, makes the ‘Chandos’ Anthem No.8 (opening chorally with “O come let us sing unto the Lord”) seem like an oratorio in miniature (indeed the lengthy chorus “Tell it out among the heathen” was later re-used for Belshazzar).
The anthem elicits greater lyrical singing from Daniels than in the Te Deum, though Davidson need not have been afraid to assert herself more in “O magnify the Lord”, whilst Mulroy and Grint are again reliable presences. The London Handel Festival Orchestra is very nimble throughout providing fluid and nuanced support for the singers, although playing by themselves in the Anthem’s opening Sonata the players are stately, and even its Allegro section does not rush ahead. The same vivacious rhythms mark the performances by the singers as a choral ensemble and it is their lithe, lucid textures, impelling the choruses with infectious zest, that remain in the mind longest, leaving the listener with the sense of being uplifted and ravished.
It is a self-recommending release for Handelians who wish to add the Te Deum to their collection, which has only been recorded once otherwise (in a slightly more expansive account in a much more spacious, even over-resonant, acoustic, by Gerhard Jenemann with the Vocalsolisten Frankfurt). Perhaps Butterfield and his forces might now turn their attention to the setting’s even rarer sibling in A. Texts are included in the booklet.