Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
This is something very special although we should start with a word to the wise: do not confuse this with the Gabrieli's 2013 release 'A New Venetian Coronation 1525' which has a similar cover. The four British coronations of the 20th century were enormous and extravagant. Replete with festive pageantry, these ceremonies were joyful celebrations of the best of British music, employing tremendous forces. Choirs from across London and beyond were marshalled to provide a chorus of over 400 voices; a full-size symphony orchestra was squeezed into Westminster Abbey, whilst bands of fanfare trumpeters led the pomp and celebration. For those that do not remember, we are talking about Edward VII in 1902, George V (1911), George VI (1937), and Elizabeth II in 1953 and, for the record, Edward VIII was not crowned. In the historic surroundings of Ely Cathedral, Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli bring the history, ceremony and liturgy of these great events back to life. With his renowned creative flair and inspiring leadership, McCreesh's painstaking research provides the springboard for this latest ground-breaking recreation project. The result is a joyful celebration of five centuries of choral music, performed with the same vast forces as were heard at the coronation services. Alongside an orchestra of rare early-20th century instruments, an extended Gabrieli Consort is supplemented by the energetic sound and fresh faces of several hundred young singers from Gabrieli's choral training programme Gabrieli Roar. The music is interspersed by much of the coronation liturgy, with Simon Russell Beale speaking the part of the Archbishop of Canterbury. As a re-enactment of events that very few of us experienced - I for one was not alive for any of the 20th century coronations - this is a fascinating listen with some interesting material in the lavish CD book as well. However, I doubt that I will listen to the whole thing in its entirety again although the music is well worth returning to. True, much is readily available elsewhere: Handel's "Zadok The Priest" and Walton's "Crown Imperial", for example, have been recorded once or twice before but to hear them in their full coronation pomp makes this version special and there are many other musical moments of note, from fanfares to hymns, that will interest any listener who appreciates traditional choral music. God save the queen indeed.
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