The Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla
The Official Album of The Coronation: The Complete Recording
Westminster Abbey Choir / Andrew Nethsingha
Peter Holder (organ)
rec. live 6 May 2023, Westminster Abbey, London
Decca 5528383 [2 CDs: 124]

This single-width double-CD set finds itself in procession with a Royal lineage of commemorative sets established by Decca over the years: Her Majesty The Queen Mother’s 100th Birthday Celebrations (2000), the Royal Wedding of the then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (2011), the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (2012) and the Royal Wedding of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (2018).  It is however a departure from the label and company (HMV, EMI Classics; now Warner) that undertook a similar project for the 1953 Coronation. In fact, that EMI set, though resplendently spread over three vinyl LPs, contained only a selection of the music with some of it in excerpt form rather than complete.

I will cast an eye over the music in this large-scale audio souvenir of the recent Coronation service and preliminaries. As a purely audio souvenir of the Coronation it speaks for itself and there is no commercial alternative. I leave the spoken word sections which are here included and run in total to about 35 mins of the 124 minute playing time. If you hanker after the full audio-visual experience then there are DVD options.

The very individual acoustic of the Abbey is captured with fidelity and this quality is asserted immediately in the fanfares and in I Was Glad (Parry) right at the start of CD 1. Not all is excellent: the initial wobble in Bryn Terfel’s otherwise commanding Goliath of a voice in Paul Mealor’s Coronation Kyrie eleison veers from the best, although his concluding and very steady pianissimo is a thing of wonder. The choral singing is clearly well rehearsed and in step with the momentous quality of the proceedings. That said the ethereal distancing of the choirs in the Walton Te Deum is better heard in the supremely magical HMV CBSO/Frémaux-conducted version.

Contemporary composers – a selection from those of some celebrity – were also smiled upon. From them there’s nothing too intensely contemporary; nothing too thorny. It’s good to see – and hear – this grand affirmation of confidence in them: Roxanna Panufnik, Patrick Doyle, Judith Weir, Debbie Wiseman (twice), Karl Jenkins, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Nigel Hess, Paul Mealor, Christopher Robinson and, as a composer, the baritone, Roderick Williams. That said, one wonders what a Coronation piece by even more contemporary composers (Errollyn Wallen, David Ades, Mihailo Trandafilovski …) might have sounded like. Perhaps next time?

Carl Davis or John Rutter might well have been in line for a major original choral piece. As it is Rutter figures several times, but as an arranger ministering to the practicalities of the Service’s musicianly forces and venue. He is joined in that capacity by Iain Farrington who also has one original work amongst the music heard before the Service.

Among composers who are or were non-Brits the least surprising presence is Handel. For me, the most unpredictable, though magnificent, was Richard Strauss (also, of course, of German birth). His music appeared in the brief yet superbly imperious form of the Wiener Philharmoniker Fanfare (1924) as arranged by Paul Mealor. The Strauss is more of an emblem of reconciliation after the events of the last century than the Handel.

Some figures who were favoured in 1953 such as Arnold Bax, Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells, George Dyson and John Ireland have had to stand back. Bax’s 1953 Coronation March (with its famous sturdy Welsh traditional hymnal countersubject – Charles III then Prince of Wales had his investiture not that far from Harlech) in fact salved its wounds somewhat with a cracking performance by the BBCSO conducted by the admirable Michael Seal on Radio 3’s afternoon concert programme. Shame about Howells, though.

The ozone-fresh simplicity of Wiseman’s two Alleluia sections. The Enthroning by Lloyd Webber ends CD 1 and rides high on the virtuosity of the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Royal Air Force and the Coronation Orchestra. Splendour indeed. Roxanna Panufnik’s Coronation Sanctus inhabits starry realms between Howellsian complexity and Szymanowski’s Third Symphony. The singing is silky and the organ writing and playing flickers in magic and majesty. The Boyce of The King Shall Rejoice manages to combine bubbling energy and airy flight.

This Walton Te Deum (written for the 1937 Coronation) is flighted, eager and joyous and must have delighted many (it certainly did me) who watched and listened on TV. All is well done but the harp is superbly caught by the Decca team, as are those headlong brass fanfares and the singing at the midway point (3.40 et seq tr. 12). They catch that essential joy just barely under control.

The choral Weelkes had its place in the sun for this historic Service but Byrd is there on three occasions. He concludes the Abbey proceedings in Tudor-Elizabethan accents with The Earl of Oxford’s March. The shade of that too easily forgotten champion of those musical eras, David Munrow, must have been smiling down at this point.

There are no fewer than three pieces by Hubert Parry in the line-up – some in arrangements by John Rutter who also ‘shored up’ the practicalities of a Westminster Abbey performance of music by Walton. Parry is a composer championed on television and elsewhere by the King when he was Prince of Wales. We should remember John Bridcut’s 90 minute documentary (2011): “The Prince and the Composer” a film about Hubert Parry by the Prince of Wales. King Charles III in his liner-notes for an all-Parry Chandos CD wrote that Parry, in spite of his ‘hugely energetic personality’ revealed a ‘nervous, melancholy, even depressive temperament which infuses the inspiring and noble sentiment of much of his music with a darker, complex hue.’ Coming after Elgar’s Fourth Pomp and Circumstance march, Parry’s March from The Birds is all gracious confidence echoed in the congregation’s applause as recessively respectful applause follows the King and Queen out from the Abbey. Right at the start of the Service – and reflecting an almost Alpha and Omega status – Parry’s I was Glad

There are quite a few composers and pieces carried over from the 1953 Coronation of King Charles’ mother. These aspects of continuity include Walton’s Te Deum and the resoundingly four-square Elgar Pomp and Circumstance march No. 4 (the message seems to be you can relax now) albeit in arrangements. Walford Davies, of the Old Guard – also puts in an appearance. That Decca erroneously injected a hyphen into his name is a pity. Gordon Jacob’s brilliant National Anthem arrangement was favoured, so his name is carried forward. In 1953 he and his fanfares and Alleluia Variations also put in an appearance. As for Vaughan Williams in 1953 there was plenty of his music; nothing this time in the main service even if he did have one work in the Music Before the Service; not recorded here by Decca.

CD2 ends with a group of six pieces deployed as Music Before The Service. Judith Weir’s joyously eloquent Brighter Visions Shine Afar is followed by Karl Jenkins’ Crossing the Stone / Tros y Garreg.  This is a gentle piece of the lissomly utmost poetry in which an almost Elizabethan spirit is decorously embellished by a harp and no doubt tips the cap to memories of Caernarfon Castle in 1969. Then comes Sarah Class’s ballad Sacred Fire confidently performed by Pretty Yende and the Orchestra. The Be Thou My Vision is tenderly done and tenderly written with the hymn front and centre and the style typically English (George Butterworth and Frank Bridge) if exuberantly hybridised with Canteloube and Rimsky.

The jazzily flouncy floozy of Iain Farrington’s organ solo Voices of the World blew away any vestige of spider silk. I caught just a hint of Hammond organ in the mix.  There’s even an Aussie moment in globe-trotting mix. It nodded towards the Commonwealth as much perhaps as the presence of Balham-born Canadian composer Healy Willan’s choral work in the 1953 event. The march by Patrick Doyle (born in Coronation year, 1953) who wrote the music for the Kenneth Branagh film of Henry V is buoyant. Like the Triptych and the Carl Davis march it could in future years make a completely natural inclusion in concerts of British music of a lighter order.

The booklet sets out in English only and across 20 pages the Order of Service and the participants, musicians, ensembles and speakers. There we find all the spoken and sung words. It’s only a pity that the numbers for each section are not at all related to the track numbers on the two CDs.

This set resoundingly achieves what it sets out to do – as a souvenir of a historic point in the story of British Isles. There are more than a few musical triumphs along the way and the track allocation allows the listener hunting down the music to go straight to the preferred works even if some of the tracks begin with oration.

Rob Barnett

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CD 1
1. trad. Fanfare for the Arrival of Their Majesties
2. Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918) I Was Glad (arr. John Rutter (b.1945)
3. Greeting The King
His Majesty King Charles III (spoken word), Samuel Strachan, Child of His Majesty’s Chapel Royal (spoken word)
4. Greeting and Introduction
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word)
5. Paul Mealor (b.1975) Coronation Kyrie eleison
6. Christopher Robinson (b.1936) Recognition Fanfares
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word), The Right Honourable Lady Elish Angiolini LT DBE KC (spoken word), Christopher Finney GC (spoken word), The Right Honourable The Baroness Amos LG CH (spoken word)
7. The Presenting of the Holy Bible
The Right Reverend Dr Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (spoken word)
8. The Oaths [2:49]
His Majesty King Charles III (spoken word), The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word)
9. William Byrd (1540-1623) Prevent Us, O Lord, T 207
10. The King’s Prayer
His Majesty King Charles III (spoken word)
11. William Byrd: Mass for 4 Voices, T 1
12. The Collect
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word)
13. The Epistle
The Right Honourable Rishi Sunak MP, Prime Minister of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (spoken word)
14. Debbie Wiseman (b.1963) Alleluia (O Clap Your Hands)
15. The Gospel
The Right Reverend and Right Honourable Dame Sarah Mullally DBE, Dean of His Majesty’s Chapels Royal (spoken word)
16. Debbie Wiseman Alleluia (O Sing Praises)
Ascension Gospel Choir/Abimbola Amoako-Gyampah
17. The Sermon
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word)
18. trad.: Veni Creator Spiritus
19. Thanksgiving for the Holy Oil
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word)
20. George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) Coronation Anthem No. 1, HWV258 ‘Zadok the Priest’
21. trad.: The Investiture and Give The King Your Judgements (Byzantine Chant)
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word), Byzantine Chant Ensemble (vocals)/Dr Alexander Lingas
22. The Crowning
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word)
23. Richard Strauss (1864-1949) Wiener Philharmoniker Fanfare, TrV 248 (arr. Paul Mealor)
Coronation Brass Ensemble/Paul Wynne Griffiths
24. The Blessing
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word), The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Stephen Cottrell (spoken word), His Eminence Archbishop Nikitas (spoken word), The Reverend Canon Helen Cameron (spoken word), The Right Reverend Mike Royal (spoken word), His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols (spoken word)
25. Thomas Weelkes (1576–1623) O Lord, grant the king a long life
26. Christopher Robinson The Enthroning and the Homage (Homage Fanfare)
Fanfare Trumpeters of the Royal Air Force
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word), His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales (spoken word), The Congregation of Westminster Abbey (spoken word)
27. Sir Henry Walford Davies (1869-1941) Confortare (arr. John Rutter)
28. The Coronation of The Queen
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word)
29. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (b.1948) Make a Joyful Noise

CD 2
1. Henry Purcell (1659-1695) Christ is Made the Sure Foundation (arr. James O’Donnell)
2. Prayer over the Gifts and The Eucharistic Prayer
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word)
3. Roxanna Panufnik (b.1968) Coronation Sanctus
4. The Eucharistic Prayer (continued)
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word)
5. The Lord’s Prayer [0:45]
6. Holy Communion
The Congregation of Westminster Abbey (spoken word), The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word)
Tarik O’Regan (b.1978) Coronation Agnus Dei
7. Post-Communion Prayer and The Blessing
The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (spoken word)
8. Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) Threefold Amen
9. John Goss (1800-1880) Praise, My Soul the King of Heaven (arr. Christopher Robinson)  
10. William Boyce (1711-1779) The King Shall Rejoice: Opening Chorus
Peter Holder (organ)
11. Sir William Walton (1902-1983) Coronation Te Deum (arr. John Rutter)
12. trad.: The National Anthem (God Save The King) (arr. Gordon Jacob (1895-1984)
13. Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4 in G Major, Op. 39 No. 4 (arr. Iain Farrington (b.1977))
14. Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry March from The Birds (arr. John Rutter)
15. Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry Chorale Fantasia on “The Old Hundredth”
16. William Byrd Earl of Oxford’s March (arr. Matthew Knight)

Music Before The Service:-

17. Judith Weir: ‘Brighter Visions Shine Afar’
18. Sir Karl Jenkins: ‘Tros y Garreg’ (‘Crossing the Stone’)
19. Sarah Class: ‘Sacred Fire’ performed by Pretty Yende
20. Nigel Hess, Roderick Williams, Shirley J Thompson: ‘Be Thou my Vision – Triptych for Orchestra’
21. Iain Farrington: ‘Voices of the World’
22. Patrick Doyle: ‘King Charles III Coronation March’

Other performers
Major Julian Sandford (trumpet), The State Trumpeters of the Household Cavalry; Fanfare Trumpeters of the Royal Air Force /Wing Commander Piers Morrell
Coronation Orchestra / Sir Antonio Pappano
Pretty Yende (soprano), Sir Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone), Roderick Williams (baritone)
The King’s Scholars of Westminster School
Choristers from Truro Cathedral Choir, Choristers from Chapel Choir of Methodist College Belfast, Octet from the Monteverdi Choir, The Choir of His Majesty’s Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace

Music played at the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953
(Not on the Decca CD)
* indicates first performance
Orchestral music played before the service
Chaconne from ‘King Arthur’: Henry Purcell (arranged Herbage) Trumpet tune: Purcell
March Crown Imperial: William Walton
Fantasia on the Alleluia hymn: Gordon Jacob
Jupiter: Gustav Holst
Epic March: John Ireland
Regalia procession:
Oh most merciful: Charles Wood
Regalia procession:
Litany for 5 voices: Thomas Tallis
March: Pomp and Circumstance no.2: Edward Elgar
Idyll ‘Banks of Green Willow’: George Butterworth
Processional*: Arthur Bliss
Greensleeves: arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams
Nimrod: Elgar
March: Orb and Sceptre*: Walton
Fireworks music: overture & minuet: George Frederic Handel

Music during the service, orchestra and choirs
Fanfare I Anthem ‘I was glad’: C.H.H.Parry
Fanfares II, III, IV, V Introit:
Behold, O God our Defender*: Herbert Howells
Gradual: Let my prayer come up*: William Harris
The Creed (from G minor mass): Vaughan Williams
Come, Holy Ghost: VIII Mode Melody: arr. Ernest Bullock
Zadok the Priest: Handel
Confortare*: George Dyson
Rejoice in the Lord: John Redford
O clap your hands together: Orlando Gibbons
I will not leave you comfortless: William Byrd
O Lord our Governour*: Healey Willan
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace: S.S.Wesley
Homage fanfare VII founded on Scots tune ‘Montrose’ Hymn:
All people that on earth do dwell: arr.Vaughan Williams
Versicles & Responses, Sanctus: Vaughan Williams
O taste and see *: Vaughan Williams
Gloria in Excelsis: Charles Villiers Stanford
Three-fold Amen: Orlando Gibbons
Te Deum *: Walton
Fanfare VIII and God save the Queen: arr. Gordon Jacob
(fanfares I to VII composed by Sir Ernest Bullock)

Orchestral music after the service
March: Pomp and Circumstance no.1: Elgar
Coronation March *: Arnold Bax
March: Pomp and Circumstance no.4: Elgar