No members of the British royal family are passing through Vancouver this month, or if they are they have failed to send us a visiting card. And with Queen Elizabeth II looking astonishingly fit at 92, the possibility of a coronation in the near future depends largely on whether Brexit proves fraught enough to wreck her robust health. So why is Early Music Vancouver presenting a concert of George Frederick Handel’s Coronation Anthems this weekend?
Simply because EMV artistic director Matthew White and Pacific Baroque Orchestra bandleader Alexander Weimann like them quite a lot.
“We both have the weakness, if you want, of just loving the high-baroque oratorio repertoire,” Weimann tells the Straight in a telephone interview from his Ladner home. “So the Anthems have been on our list for a while.”
Listeners will get a bonus at this Sunday’s concert: since the four Anthems collectively clock in at well under an hour in length, Weimann, the PBO, and the Vancouver Cantata Singers will add Handel’s earlier Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne.
“For a while I was thinking of the Utrecht Te Deum of Handel’s, which is often paired with the Anthems,” Weimann allows. “And while it would be okay, it didn’t feel really right for once, because the Anthems are fantastic music, but it’s all on the majestic, glorious, lots-of-trumpets forte spectrum, and I was looking for something that could match that, but not just repeat it.”
Some research reminded the keyboardist and conductor that while the Anthems were written for the coronation of King George II, it was actually that monarch’s predecessor, Queen Anne, who was Handel’s initial patron after he moved to London in 1712. “And that reminded me of the birthday ode, which I love for many reasons, but especially for its unbelievable beginning,” he says. “So there we had the program.”
Weimann points out that, following their debut in 1727, Handel’s Anthems have been performed at the coronation of every subsequent British monarch. But it’s their musical rather than their historical worth that he finds compelling. Their sound, we agree, strikes a perfect balance between majesty and warmth; while certainly fit for a king (or a queen), the music seems more an invocation of the ruler’s better nature than his terrible power.
“I’m really not a royalist,” Weimann says, laughing. “I couldn’t be less interested. But the music is still very captivating, whatever your personal projection might be. It does the ritual, and the bella figura, if you want, but it does something beyond that.…And I don’t know what it is, in Handel’s case, but I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s just a fantastic manipulator. He really knows how to get us into a mood.”
Early Music Vancouver presents Handel’s Coronation Anthems at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at 3 p.m. on Sunday (April 14).