Dettingen Te Deum (HWV 283)
Te Deum in A Major (HWV 282)
Recorded in 1999.
Released in 2001.
Dorothee Mields, soprano
Ulrike Anderson, alto
Mark Wilde, tenor
Chis Dixon, bass
Concerto Polacco (on period instruments)
Conductor: Wolfgang Helbich
Handel's music celebrating the victory of the British army at Dettingen in 1743 cannot be described as either subtle or humane. The opening "We praise thee, O God" with blasting military rhythm reinforced by trumpets and timpani owes more to the battle field than to Godliness. Yet this self-assured bellicose style can be very enjoyable, and this particular author remains to be convinced that the Dettingen Te Deum is as inferior to the much earlier Utrecht Te Deum as some writers have suggested.
If given a performance that can pace the mixture of raw power and contemplation effectively, the Dettingen setting is infectiously vibrant in a live context. Admittedly the Dettingen Te Deum does not come across so well on disc, and one cannot complain that it has been unjustly neglected - there have been several decent recordings, including a reasonably good account by Simon Preston with The English Concert (DG/Archiv 410 647-2). Yet all existing recordings fall prey to monotony after 20 minutes or so. This new Naxos disc fares worse, and after the marvellous opening movement things become dull and routine very quickly. The orchestra is competent, and the soloists are generally capable, but the choir is lackluster and the enterprise lacks vitality. The fact that Naxos is a budget record label is no excuse - musical imagination should be the lifeblood of a Handel interpreter, not an extra perk for those who are better paid. To be fair, it is a difficult piece for a conductor to bring off, not least due to the abundance of insistent D major military music. But even average Handel still deserves to be invested with some flair, colour, and dramatic contrasts of dynamics and textures.Handelians will want to hear this disc because it features the world premiere recording of the Te Deum in A Major, composed for the Chapel Royal in 1726. Most of Handel's anthems for the Chapel Royal remain among the least known of his compositions, so it is useful for completists to have a recording of this obscure work (even if one imagines it could be done a lot better). Naxos have no problems with producing interesting projects on paper - J.C. Smith's pasticcio oratorio Nabal should be released in Spring 2002 - nor with adequate technical standards involved in the recording process. The fatal flaw remains firmly with the disappointing sub-standard performances that they introduce into the marketplace. Indeed, their recordings of Handel are usually weak, and sometimes even chronic (e.g., Martini's Athalia). The company evidently still has considerable problems when it comes to achieving a respectable quality of musical insight in High Baroque music.
This new recording's failure to hit the mark is further compounded by the availability of another budget-priced version conducted by Diego Fasolis, coupled with a surprisingly good performance of Dixit Dominus. (ARTS 47560-2) This features good Italian soloists (including Roberta Invernizzi, Gloria Banditelli and Furio Zanasi), and although this more exciting version from Naxos's rival label also has its imperfections, it inhabits a more vigourous and enthusiastic league. Quality doesn't have to be expensive - a philosophy that Naxos have long promoted but seldom proved.
© David Vickers - December 2001
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