Queen Anne, Queen Caroline, King George I, Prince Frederick and Princess Augusta may not have been terribly musical themselves but Queen Anne, presumably on advice, appointed the young German Mr Handel to the lucrative post of Master of the Queen's Musick. She did not last long from then to her death and burial in a square coffin (the poor lady suffered from dropsy), but Mr Handel's luck was in again, because the new monarch was none other than his recent patron the Elector of Hanover, now assuming the vacant position of King of England and the title of George I.
This an excellent issue, not least because the three royal works that it contains are not very well known nowadays. The Birthday Ode for Queen Anne surely must have impressed even that unmusical monarch with its spectacular opening number - Eternal Source, a slow and languorous duet between singer and trumpet. To find out a little more about this composition and its two companions, let me refer you to the other King making a thoroughly welcome appearance here, the director and eminent specialist in baroque music Robert King. Robert King's essay is of a kind that collectors of his Handel oratorios will be familiar with - knowledgeable, enthusiastic, informative without overloading the detail, and pleasantly written. Full texts are provided, albeit in small print, and the text of the Queen Caroline Te Deum, which is the shortest work of the three, is unabridged, the same text as Handel sets in the mighty Dettingen Te Deum lasting three quarters of an hour.
The most majestic work of the three is the anthem for the wedding of Prince Frederick and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Coburg. This dates from twenty and more years later than the other two, and is in the familiar manner of the Coronation Anthems, with one of those final wind-ups that Handel could do like nobody else. Robert King of course knows Handel's idiom in all its variety inside-out, and I hope and believe that nobody will be disappointed with anything in the performance. The soloists are tried and trusted too, and if James Bowman and Michael George are not quite in their best voice in their first number that impression is well dispelled later. Gillian Fisher and John Mark Ainsley seem to me in fine form from start to finish, and the orchestral work is predictably professional and sound in style without being undernourished in the manner of some early `period' renderings. Similarly, tempi are reasonable at all points. This was 1988, and by that time the urge to set speed records had worn off among the `period' specialists.
The 1988 recorded sound is fine by me. It may not be spectacular, but I was not looking for that. I can be quite content with good balance and faithful tone, and I am given all of that here. Let me compliment the chorus in particular, who have some quite taxing work, or what might once have seemed taxing. That era was probably behind us in 1988, and we can enjoy the stylish rendition of the finest choral sound there has ever been to this day. All in all several relaxed hearings have not so far turned up anything that I feel like criticising, and I feel as confident as I can expect to feel that things are going to stay that way.