Hitting the right note for the Jubilee celebrations

Members of Sheffield City Opera at a rehearsal for Diamond Jubilation
Members of Sheffield City Opera at a rehearsal for Diamond Jubilation

HANDEL’S coronation anthem Zadok the Priest crops up three times over the next three weeks and it will not have escaped attention last weekend what has prompted it to do so.

The first time it is heard is this Saturday at Rotherham Civic Theatre when Sheffield City Opera present Diamond Jubilation, an engaging evening of varied delights (with a couple of oddities), which end with a ‘Last Night’ sing-a-long.

And only one person associated with SCO could possibly sing Rule, Britannia! for those who can recall Constance Shacklock singing it at many a Sir Malcolm Sargent-conducted Proms Last Nights, a family descendent, Joanna Shacklock!

Constance’s operatic debut in 1946 was in Purcell’s semi-opera The Fairy Queen and coincidentally, or more likely by accident, five numbers from it are included in SCO’s Diamond Jubilation.

There are also five well-known items from Edward German’s Merrie England, including Long Live Elizabeth – Elizabeth I, that is! Ivor Novello gets a look in with Rose of England, as does Noel Coward with three gems, including Mad Dogs and Englishmen and Stately Homes of England.

Gilbert and Sullivan do well: three items from Yeomen of the Guard; four from Iolanthe, including When Britain Ruled the Waves and Peers’ Chorus; and one from The Gondoliers, the quartet Then one of us will be a Queen.

A very loose excuse, perhaps, could be found for including the Jewel Song from Gounod’s Faust before the rendering of Zadok the Priest, but let the ‘oddities’ remain a surprise.

One of the four anthems Handel wrote for the coronation of George II in 1727, Zadok has been sung at every British monarch’s coronation since and is performed regularly in a non-ceremonial environment.

Its text, familiar to every choral singer, is perhaps not to others:

Zadok the Priest, and Nathan the Prophet anointed Solomon King

And all the people rejoiced, and said

God save the King! Long live the King!

May the King live for ever,

Amen, Allelujah.

Zadok was instrumental in bringing King Solomon to the throne after the death of David and became the first High Priest when the First Temple of Jerusalem was built.

Handel’s mighty Zadok anthem next appears a week on Saturday, June 16, when the Sheffield Oratorio Chorus perform it at Sheffield Cathedral with the composer’s other three coronation anthems, The King Shall Rejoice, Let Thy Hand be Strengthened and My Heart is Inditing.

Also heard is Parry’s chorally popular I Was Glad written for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, revised for the enthronement of George V in 1911 and sung at Elizabeth II’s in 1952. It was sung, too, at the weddings of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer and their son William’s to Kate Middleton.

Celebratory joy abounds in three other works getting outings at the concert, Purcell’s Te Deum and Jubilate Deo written to celebrate St Cecilia’s Day in 1694 and O Clap Your Hands (circa 1610) by Orlando Gibbons, heard at the present Queen’s coronation in 1952.

Seven pieces of music from the latter are reprised at St John’s Church, Ranmoor on June 30 when Viva Voce chamber choir present a 30-plus item Diamond Jubilee cocktail of choral and instrumental music, Vivat!

From the 1952 coronation, as well as Zadok and I Was Glad, are Howells’ Behold, O God, Dyson’s Confortare, Redford’s Rejoice in the Lord, Walton’s Te Deum and Vaughan Williams’ Old 100th (All People That on Earth).

A typically enterprising Viva Voce concert, it also takes in two of 12 choral songs from A Garland for the Queen (1953), Ireland’s The Hills and Finzi’s White Flowering Days, and the six Courtly Dances from Britten’s Elizabeth and Essex coronation opera of 1953, Gloriana.

Music from the time of Elizabeth 1 includes the Wilbye and Mundy contributions to the 25 madrigals in her honour in The Triumphs of Oriana (1601) and from the book of the same title (1898) with 13 part-songs penned for Queen Victoria’s 80th birthday, there is Walford Davies’ Hark the World.

Elgar is in there with Nimrod, Purcell with his setting of I Was Glad (written for James II’s coronation) and, instrumentally, The Bashful Thames, as is further Handel, including a snatch of his Water Music, written at George I’s request in 1717 for a journey by royal barge down the Thames.

The fact was seemingly lost on the BBC news channel’s commentator at last Sunday’s Thames pageant who described it rather embarrassingly as merely appropriate. Mind you, it had started to rain.

l Mexborough-based Bel Canto Choir also has a Diamond Jubilee concert at Wentworth Church this Saturday. See Listings.