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George II
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The Coronation of King George II
(George Frideric Handel)
George II's coronation, which is depicted on this Hyperion two-CD set, took place in 1727 amid chaotic circumstances, and it's hard to know how much of the surviving documentation indicates what actually happened as against what was meant to happen. So Robert King's musical recreation of the event is inevitably a mixture of scholarship and speculation, throwing in items from past coronation ceremonies (like Purcell's I was glad) on challengeable evidence. But never mind. If you take this exercise in broad terms--and you should--it's brilliantly effective, with clear, sharp-edged performances of the four coronation anthems (including Zadok the Priest) that Handel definitely did write for the event. Along with that is what would in 1727 have been old music by Tallis, Gibbons, and Blow, plus spatial sound effects of grand processions, fanfares, shouts of acclamation, and the bells of London, all recorded in rural locations west of Swindon, because the real thing is drowned out these days by 21st-century traffic noise. One reservation: it's all a touch staid with overly stately tempi and less atmosphere than it could happily sustain. You just don't believe it's happening in Westminster Abbey (nor is it: most of the material was recorded in a Lutyens church in Hampstead Garden Suburb, north London). Also, over two CDs, the endless trumpet fanfares get a little wearing. But that's probably authentic. And since the second CD comes free, there's nothing to complain about. --Michael White

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