sun 14/07/2024

Handel for the King, Le Concert Spirituel, Niquet, Wigmore Hall at St James's Spanish Place review - post-coronation celebrations | reviews, news & interviews

Handel for the King, Le Concert Spirituel, Niquet, Wigmore Hall at St James's Spanish Place review - post-coronation celebrations

Handel for the King, Le Concert Spirituel, Niquet, Wigmore Hall at St James's Spanish Place review - post-coronation celebrations

'Zadok the Priest' becomes a 'smooth classic' in a good way, amidst other royal blazes

King Charles III meets members of Le Concert Spirituel, with Hervé Niquet behind him' All images by Matt Crossick/PA

Union Jacks could be stowed away, and EU ones figuratively, furtively flourished: this was a concert of celebratory music for a Hanoverian king by a Saxon composer, by then recently become a British citizen, performed by a French ensemble in a Roman Catholic church which once served the Spanish Embassy. The present King, having already made a start repairing Britain’s damaged reputation on the continent by speaking German in Berlin, surely approved.

How do I know? Because there he was, as we all suspected he would be because of tight security, enjoying among other things a more relaxed performance of "Zadok the Priest" than the splendid one a month earlier, and presenting honorary membership of the Royal Philharmonic Society to Judith Weir, "Master" of the King's Music (I wish she'd spoken, because she usually does so eloquently, but Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason of our other royal family gave a warm, poetic tribute. Presentation pictured below, with Kanneh-Mason and Wigmore Hall director John Gilhooly looking on). King Charles III presents Judith Weir with highest musical honourAfter prefatory organ music by Bach, no more clear above the hubbub than the finale from Elgar's Organ Sonata at the end – something more constantly loud from Vierne or Widor might have been more audible – there was a delightfully smooth segue in to "God Save the King": verse one sung with his usual clarity by Coronation hero and RPS trustee Roderick Williams, verse two by all (we had the words in the programme).

Then the great blazes began, with incisive timpani and three clarion period trumpets (simply the best, as played by Jean-François Madeuf, Jean-Daniel Souchon and Joël Lahens, the hardest-working stars of the evening, pictured below). Le Concert Spirituel in St James's Spanish PlaceWhat followed in Handel's fourth Te Deum, to mark George II's nominal leadership of a victorious army at the Battle of Dettingen, couldn't be expected to come across with exemplary clarity to those of us seated halfway in the nave; until the sixth section we only caught the words "everlasting" and "cherubim" (despite the sporadic gilt, St James's is a rather lugubrious venue, too). But that was no fault of Concert Spirituel choristers, responding with really operatic force especially from the three basses; and in any case this work is mostly generalised if effective Handel, occasionally going into Messiah mode.

Originality, on the other hand, informs so much in the four Coronation Anthems, and they make a good sequence, nicely prefaced by amusing remarks from Niquet, for the benefit of the forthcoming BBC Radio 3 broadcast, on the Versaillification of Handel. He chose to place the more contemplative vein between the two bigger flourishes, "The king shall rejoice" and "Zadok". In both "Let thy hand be strengthened" and "My heart is inditing", we were made aware of how skilfully Handel rises to the full panoply from quieter, more lyrical beginnings. "Spirituel" rather than "mondain", to be sure, as befits 15 players and 14 in the choir (in 1727, Handel had at his disposal 40 voices and 160 instrumentalists). Niquet takes a bow"Zadok" was the big surprise, outbursts kept at a low level for the most part so that climaxes, usually prefaced by artistic crescendi, could hit the harder; the Niquet vein of shapely lyricism held good here too. You might argue that there was a subversive spirit of "Vive la Révolution" here, but maybe it was simply more fitting to present King Charles III with a more intimate gift after the pomp of a month earlier. I'm sure he got the full impact towards the front which many of us lost in the venue; and no doubt it will all sound just as it should on Radio 3.

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