The outstanding Gabrieli & Paul McCreesh coronation programme roared at Ely

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A concert can be many things. In simplest of terms, it can be a just sequence of pieces performed together without much attention to the overall context. For the ever-innovative powerhouse for a conductor, Paul McCreesh, and the marvellous musicians of the Gabrieli Consort & Players, a concert is an inspiring, meticulously planned entity, where each piece is connected to the others to form an unified whole.

In this respect, their latest project, An English Coronation, presented live at the glorious Ely Cathedral on Monday, and subsequently to be released on recording, is one of the most brilliant creations of McCreesh and the Gabrielis. 

As the title suggests, the thrilling programme is based on the four 20th century English coronations, those of Edward VII (1902), George V (1911), George VI (1937) and Elizabeth II (1953). Drawing ceremonial music from fanfares to anthems and hymns with the settings of Te Deum and Gloria included, the vibrantly celebratory programme was brought to life with period instruments of the first half of the 20th century, including original fanfare trumpets.

In addition, An English Coronation is an education project par excellence, mustering circa 250 young people from several schools around the country under the wings of Gabrieli Roar choral training partnership, coached by the members of the Gabrieli Consort. 

After an intense period of sectionals, the entire 350-strong forces were summoned to Ely on Monday, for tutti rehearsals and a concert, followed by another day of recording sessions for a concept album coming out on May next year. 

The concert, narrated by Simon Russell Beale, recreated the coronation celebrations protocol. The exuberant fanfares, seven in total, were performed by the Chetnam’s Symphonic Brass Ensemble, placed mid-nave, and conducted by Ellie Slorach. There were fifteen trumpet players, augmented with four side-drummers, in this formidable offstage ensemble. 

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All other music, choral and instrumental, was performed by the large onstage ensemble, full orchestra, semi-chorus and large chorus. 

After the opening fanfare, Parry’s celebrated antiphonal anthem, I Was Glad (1902), was heard. And what a performance it was! With its riveting choral and orchestral textures, full of vigour and solemn joy, I Was Glad set the mood for the evening. 

Proceeding to the anointing, there was a touchingly beautiful account of the plainsong Come Holy Ghost followed by Handel’s best loved coronation anthem, Zadoc the Priest, HWV 258. Composed in 1727 for the coronation of king George II, the anthem has been heard in all the subsequent coronations. Sung with uplifting beauty, the Handel classic made a lasting impression.

In the proper manner of the coronation ceremony, the Ely audience was invited to participate in the acclamations and the hymns. And gladly they did so, whether in enthusiastic acclamations of ’God save the KIng’ or in heartfelt contribution to the first, second and last verses of The Old Hundreth in Vaughan Williams’ harmonization and arrangement for the 1953 coronation of Elizabeth II. 

Also composed for the 1953 coronation by Vaughan Williams, the utterly beautiful motet O Taste and See featured some of the most sublime choral singing of the evening, with an enchanting solo line by the fabulous soprano Rowan Pierce.  

Pierce’s talent was also featured in Stanford’s Gloria from his Services in B flat Major, Op 10 (1879/1903), which was given a most wonderful performance.  

The musical highlight of the coronation ceremony is, without question, the culminating Te Deum, of which, a setting by William Walton for the 1953 coronation was featured in the Ely programme.  

Walton’s Coronation Te Deum is a ravishing piece for chorus, orchestra and organ, full of glorious vocal writing and a shimmering orchestral textures with rousing fanfares. The full expressive potential of the huge chorus and orchestra, both onstage and offstage, was unleashed under McCreesh’s spirited conducting. 

As always, the choral and orchestral parts were admirably balanced, resulting in a transparent and rich sound, doing full justice to Walton’s impressive vocal and instrumental writing.  

As a splendid conclusion, there was a new recessional, composed by David Matthews for Gabrieli, premiered at the Ely concert, alongside Matthews’ arrangement of the National Anthem. 

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In the Recessional and National Anthem, Op. 150 (2018) Matthews uses the large forces at hand to create a rich palette of sonorities, rooted in thrilling harmonies. There is fascinating, almost introspective brass writing in the opening pages. Gradually the music gains momentum, making good use of both onstage and offstage ensembles before resolving into the newly clad National Anthem. 

Be it the Matthews premiere, the Parry anthem, Byrd or an 8th century plainsong, the Gabrielis and the marvelous teenagers of the Gabrieli Roar performed with enthusiasm, beauty and conviction, resulting in a unique musical experience. 

In a world with accessible music education under a constant threat of budget cuts, project like this demonstrates, what wonderful things can be achieved with young people given the chance to tackle rewarding artistic challenges in a dedicated context of coaching and support. 

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For not only there was a rejuvenated audience at the fully packed Ely Cathedral, but a huge crowd of talented young people onstage, grasping the full joy of top-class music making with the great professionals of the Gabrielis and their fabulous maestro. Vivat!

     

Gabrieli Consort & Players

Gabrleli Roar

Chetnam’s Symphonic Brass Ensemble

Paul McCreesh, conductor

Ellie Slorach, assistant conductor

 

Simon Russell Beale, narrator

Rowan Pierce, soprano

 

An English Coronation 1902-1953

Music from the coronations of

Edward VII (1902)

George V (1911)

George VI (1937)

Elizabeth II (1953)

 

Ely Cathedral, Ely

Monday 23 July, 7.30 pm

 

c Jari Kallio

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