Music from The Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (Live at Westminster Abbey, London, 2/6/1953)
Taking place just eight years after the end of the Second World War, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953 represented the ushering in of a new age as much as it did the anointing of Britain’s new monarch. Westminster Abbey was the location, as it had been for all but two coronations since William the Conqueror in 1066. Nothing was left to chance, and the Abbey was shut for six months in preparation. It was also the first coronation to be broadcast live to billions across the world. And it’s from that broadcast that this spectacular recording has been taken, now lovingly remastered and presented in Spatial Audio. Almost every stage of the service featured a feast of choral, organ and orchestral music, performed by an assembled force of over 400 musicians. The choir was comprised of singers from, of course, the Abbey, as well as St Paul’s Cathedral, St George’s Windsor, Hampton Court, a selection of boys from churches across the UK and 19 women from a number of British territories. Accompanying the voices were the specially assembled Coronation Orchestra and organist Osborne Peasgood, all conducted by the Abbey’s organist and choirmaster William McKie. James Wilkinson, who was then a 12-year-old Abbey chorister, remembers the occasion as if it were yesterday. “There was a lot of noise!” he tells Apple Music. “It was very loud, as you can imagine, with 400 musicians all belting the music out.” Although the coronation was a special ceremony, Wilkinson admits he and his fellow choristers took it all in their stride; after all, the Westminster Abbey choir was used to royal occasions. Musically, Wilkinson’s strongest memories lie with Parry’s thunderous opening processional “I was glad”, with its Vivats shouted raucously from high up in the Abbey’s triforium by the Queen’s Scholars of Westminster School. But for the Queen’s anointing, admits Wilkinson, Handel’s “Zadok the Priest” almost fell apart. “The violins ran away with themselves! You can hear it on the recording, and for a moment, you think, ‘What’s going to happen?’, but fortunately everything came back into order.” Alongside the Handel and Parry and anthems by Gibbons, Wesley and Stanford, the coronation was gilded by several choral premieres, composed by an astonishing line-up including Herbert Howells, Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton, Ernest Bullock and one of the two sub-conductors, William Henry Harris. Wilkinson looks back fondly at Vaughan Williams’ short motet “O taste and see”, composed for the communion. “The treble solo was actually sung by three of the Abbey’s senior choristers who you can just about hear. It’s such a beautiful piece and it has become a staple of church choirs everywhere.” Wilkinson gives honorable mention, too, to the “Te Deum” by William Walton. “It was such fun to sing, as it was so modern and syncopated,” he says. “The Archbishop of Canterbury wanted Walton to write a shorter piece, as he didn’t want to wait around for the recessional. Walton, however, insisted that the ‘Te Deum’ had to be done properly!” A magnificent, full-throated performance of the National Anthem, with full orchestra, organ and massed trumpeters from the Royal Military School of Music, brings the service to a close, provides a fitting coda to this most unique and historic of ceremonial spectacles. Dive in for a privileged snapshot of a golden age in British choral music.