Taken from the soundtrack of the film God Rot Tunbridge Wells, this unforgettable collection of Handel’s ‘hits’ was rightly praised at the time for making Handel sound, well, like Handel: full of life and fury, and not the usual syrupy stodge served up by massed choirs of thousands.
Conducted by the great Handelian Sir Charles Mackerras, his fiery cast – Emma Kirkby, James Bowman, Elizabeth Harwood, John Shirley-Quirk, Simon Preston, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, Valerie Masterson, Andrei Gavrilov, Simon Preston and the Westminster Abbey Choir and the indefatigable English Chamber Orchestra – blaze their way through some of Handel’s most famous music.
Mackerras had insisted on hearing the Royal Fireworks Music (for instance) as it had been written – for a veritable battery of wind and brass instruments, not to mention twenty side-drums – but how on earth were we going to assemble that number of period-looking instruments to film? Easy, said the cameraman: use mirrors. And so we did. No-one noticed, nor that the ‘harpsichord’ on which the deaf and almost blind Handel doodles from time to time is actually a grand piano painted by Burne-Jones in 1890, almost 150 years after Handel had died. (Ironically, the one person who did spot this was Andrew Lloyd-Webber, who then tried to buy the piano).
Mackerras adored the film and for a time went round slightly misquoting one of Handel’s speeches from the film. Handel/Osborne/Trevor Howard says, with appropriate insouciance: ''What have I done for the Georges of England?!'' Mackerras said: ''What have I done for the Handels of England?'' Rescued them, great Sir. Rescued them.
7: The Messiah ‘I Know that My Redeemer Liveth’ (Elizabeth Harwood) 6:37
6: The Royal Fireworks (Minuet) 2:42
5: Xerses: ‘Ombra mai fù - Never was the shadow’ (James Bowman) 3:29
4: Israel in Egypt: ‘He Gave Them Hailstones’ (Chorus) 2:05
3: Water Music (Air) 1:58
2: ‘Zadok the Priest’ (Chorus) 4:50
1: The Royal Fireworks (Overture) 3:14
9: The Messiah: ‘But who may Abide’ (Emma Kirkby & The Academy of Ancient Music) 4:21
10: Water Music (Bourée) 1:56
11: The Messiah: ‘For unto us a Child is born’ (Chorus) 4:16
12: Judas Maccabeus: ‘See the Conquering Hero Comes’ (Judith Howarth & Lynn Anderson) 2:30
14: Rinaldo: ‘Cara Sposa - My beloved’ (Andrew Dalton) 4:03
15: Solomon: ‘Queen of Sheba’ 3:00
16: Acis & Galatea: ‘Oh HappyWe’ (Valerie Masterson & Anthony Rolfe-Johnson) 2:03
17: Passacaglia from Suite No 7 (Andrei Gavrilov) 4:05
18: The Messiah: ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ 2:44