Composers: Elgar, Howells, Luther, Wood, Tallis, Croft, Parry, Bullock, Vaughan Williams, Handel, Parratt, Redford, Byrd, Gibbons, Wesley, John Merbecke, Stanford, Walton, Matthews
Performers: Gabrieli Consort and Players, Gabrieli Roar, Chetham’s Symphonic Brass Ensemble/
Paul McCreesh
Catalogue Number: Signum SIGCD569 (2CD)

Most people, regardless of what they may think about religion or royalty, love a good spectacle, and it doesn’t get more spectacular than an English coronation. Given the longevity of the current monarch, there hasn’t been such a ceremony for 66 years. That has not stopped the indefatigable Paul McCreesh. Having twice recreated the splendours of a Venetian coronation, the man they call “Maestro” has now scaled the Everest of recreations and given us a truly thrilling impression of the pomp and pageantry of a 20th-century coronation.

Without precisely recreating any of last century’s four coronations, McCreesh has blended elements from them into a notional kingly crowning. Apart from the splendid ceremonial music, most of the ritual texts are included, with actor Simon Russell Beale enlisted to play the Archbishop of Canterbury. In typical style, McCreesh has assembled a choral mega-force of hundreds of choristers, together with a group of young singers rejoicing in the wonderful name of Gabrieli Roar. Period instruments add to the evocation of time. All these elements together, placed in the grandeur of Ely Cathedral make for a very special encounter with history, ritual and culture.

Although certain musical choices are a given (Parry’s I Was Glad and Handel’s Zadok the Priest) McCreesh has revived some well-crafted but lesser known occasional pieces such as Elgar’s Coronation March and Howells’ The King’s Herald. Generous and forward-looking, he has also commissioned David Matthews to create a new orchestral piece that leads into the National Anthem.

All of the music is delivered with a magnificent sense of occasion. McCreesh deploys his musical army with the precision of a five-star general, making the most of the spatial elements ranging from distant processions to the thunderous, lusty singing of the Old Hundredth in Vaughan Williams’ now revered arrangement. Extracts from the English version of RVW’s serene Mass in G Minor are beautifully sung, contrasting with the punchy drama of Stanford’s Gloria and Walton’s Te Deum.

McCreesh is to be applauded for the breadth and depth of his vision: broad enough to involve large numbers of young people, and new music; admirably deep in attending to performance practice and fine detail. This extraordinary enterprise, involving almost 1,000 performers, will certainly be a benchmark for the next coronation! In the meantime, what will this musical Cecil B. DeMille do next?