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Eynsham Choral Society: St Leonard's Church
Handel composed his Dettingen Te Deum in anticipation of a grand service at St Paul’s Cathedral. In the summer of 1743, King George II led his army to victory at the Battle of Dettingen — the last time an English Monarch personally fought in the field. However, there was a small problem: the victory, in the War of Austrian Succession, was a minor one, and a big thanksgiving jamboree was not thought appropriate. So Handel had to make do with the comparatively tiny Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace instead.
Designed as it was for St Paul’s, the Te Deum must have rattled the Chapel Royal to its foundations, as Eynsham Choral Society’s performance in St Leonard’s Church made plain.
Starting with a suitably militaristic introduction, led by trumpets and drums, Handel proceeds to deliver no fewer than six massive choruses back-to-back. The work plays to the Eynsham choir’s strengths: the singing was open-voiced and disciplined, the words clear. Handel alternates the sopranos and altos with the tenors and basses from time to time, and, unusually, it was the men who sounded the most confident in the more exposed passages. But the overall balance across the four choral parts was impressive. Above all, the whole piece sounded magnificently joyous, and you were left with a warm, optimistic feeling.
The Te Deum occupied the second half of this all-Handel concert, and wisely in view of the big sing ahead, conductor Stuart Dunlop gave the choir little to do before the interval. The vital first entry in Zadok the Priest was nailed precisely, and again the choral singing was uplifting. Meanwhile, excerpts from Solomon were tackled by three young soloists, Simon Ponsford, Bradley Smith, and Johnny Herford. Their light, open delivery suited the music well, as did the accompanying orchestra, which was filled with top-level professional baroque players — conductor Dunlop obviously has a very useful contact book.