Thus spake Handel. Thirty years ago there were few recordings of the Dettingen Te Deum, and they were all bad. However an LP was issued in France of all places that at least restored Handel's performing intentions, and it paved the way for Simon Preston's fine and idiomatic Westminster Abbey account on DG Archiv in 1984. It was through this recording that it dawned on me that the Dettingen Te Deum is one of the greatest pieces of music that I know, but familiarity bred a craving for even better. In particular I was looking for a richer tone from the chorus at the start, and also for a slightly firmer grip on the instrumental rhythm here and there, particularly in the numerous imitative sequences. My quest has led me to obtain the Academy of Ancient Music version under Stephen Layton, the Naxos issue also containing a smaller and earlier Te Deum - and this superlative effort from Fasolis. I eagerly awarded Preston 5 stars when I reviewed his set some years ago, and I do not un-award the rating now. However what I think I detect, or I hope I detect, from the recent versions is a sense that I am not alone in my idea of the stature of the piece, and that in the new millennium the inspiration is spreading from composer to interpreters.
All these three new sets benefit from better and more vivid recording than Preston got, and that sense is particularly striking at the start of this disc. To put it mildly, Fasolis gives the drums their head, and it recalls to me Tovey's expression `a sledgehammer tattoo'. I lap it up like this, but be warned - you might find it o-t-t. Then the colossal choral entry, the great proclamations separated by a long pause measured by a ticking beat on the violins, has all the tone I was looking for. To cap that, the imitative entries on the trumpet are ideally firm. So far so good.
It stays good, and more than just good. These Swiss artists are obviously professionals in music of this period, and I compliment them also not only on their English but also on their Englishness. At two points, Thou art the King and Day by day, a trumpet solo strides out like a herald leading a procession, the melodies are the English of the English, the work of Purcell's own heir and successor, and this trumpeter knows how to do them. This is martial music too, although never again to quite the extent of that opening sequence. Above all, this is music that relates us here on earth to the realm above, and I beg you, if you read any commentary to the effect that its main characteristic is heartiness, not to fall for such trivialisation. Episodes expressing serene belief, episodes expressing awe, anxiety and anguished supplication, and simple linking sections alternate with the mighty choral climaxes, and not only the quality of the choral tone but also the variety that these climaxes achieve, are the interpreters' real test. `The Father of an infinite majesty' must express nothing less than a vision of infinity: the final `Let me never be confounded' is not exactly triumphal but it is made overwhelming here; and the trickiest bit is track 4. The start seems almost lightweight, as if these trumpeters were the little cherubs consisting of head and wings. It then gathers weight, and we must actually transcend the tableau of the heavenly host themselves who `continually do cry "Holy, holy, holy" continually continually continually continually...' to reach the stupefying `Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.' Does it reach my own ideal here? Maybe not quite, but it's getting there.
The filler is the earlier Dixit Dominus, from Handel's Italian period. This is a fascinating work however you ultimately `rate' it. It shows astonishing boldness at times, and although Handel never lost that characteristic it took different forms after he settled in London. Offhand I can't think of anything in the oratorios quite like `conquassabit' here. The performance is excellent - lively and vivid - but the text is a disaster area, so let me help:
. on track 16 for `Diminui' read `Dominus'
. on track 17 the Latin has been reduced to double-Dutch. Read
`Tecum principium in die virtutis tuae in splendoribus sanctorum. Ex utero ante luciferum genui te.' This means `Kingship is Thine in the day of Thy strength among the glory of the saints. I have begotten Thee from the womb before the dawn.'
. on track 20 the Latin should be
`Dominus a dextris tuis confregit in die irae suae reges. Judicabit in nationibus, implebit ruinas.' This means `The Lord at Thy right hand has smitten kings in the day of His wrath. He will judge among the nations and fill ruins.' [I venture to doubt that this Latin can be correct]
. the meaning of track 21 is `He shall shatter heads in the lands of many peoples.'
. on track 23 read `Spiritui' `principio' and `semper' for their printed approximations.
The recording seems to have been done around the turn of the millennium, and I find it excellent, in particular doing justice to the hyperbolical start that Fasolis gives to the Te Deum, but more importantly giving proper value to Handel's totally incomparable choral writing. The liner note is interesting and informative, and I hope I have filled the ruins of the text of the Dixit Dominus with sense and accuracy.