MUSIC / Attacking Handel with military precision: Meredith Oakes listens to St James's Baroque Players and friends commemorate the Battle of Dettingen

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The Independent Culture
They brought a choir from Dettingen to sing Handel's Dettingen Te Deum, and invited Prince Charles to join the Princess of Hesse and the Rhine. A grand Anglo-German gesture by the generally more reticent baroque festival at St James's, Piccadilly, which for nine successful years has been sponsored by Lufthansa, the German airline.

The Battle of Dettingen, fought 250 years ago on 27 June, was a turning-point in the War of the Austrian Succession, with George II leading joint English and German forces to victory. Saturday's choral tribute, definitely EC/PC, followed German performances earlier this year. The whole locality of Karlstein (which combines the neighbouring towns of Dettingen and Grosswelzheim) was involved, and it seemed as if most of most of its inhabitants had brought themselves to London for the occasion.

In the interval I got talking to the man who had made the model of the Battle of Dettingen which is now to be seen in the Heimatsmuseum there, all the regiments painted in their proper colours. He had come across on Friday, and was returning Sunday. When Dettingen and Grosswelzheim were merged in 1975, he said, neither wanted to yield its name to the other one, so they called the new entity Karlstein, after a stone where Charles the Great is supposed to have put his foot coming out of the Rhine. Saturday's choir merged groups from both towns. A row of schoolgirls could be seen, as could the mayor, pointed out by my friend. The men's singing club, Liederblute Dettingen, was the most-travelled element, with prizes and a Czechoslovakian tour under its belt.

The conjunction of a big amateur choir, much of it not English-speaking, with St James's Baroque Players, whose style is supremely cultivated and professional, must have caused a certain amount of apprehension all round, but things went unbelievably well. Ivor Bolton conducted with all his accustomed fun and imagination, his impetus no less than it would have been with professional singers, his tempos no less challenging, and the choir stayed cleanly with him all the way. Their preparation by kapellmeister Franz-Peter Huber, who also conducted two items with great acuity, was marvellous: and all the texts they sang were English.

Totally fireproof, literate soloists had been engaged, classics of the fit-and-slim St James's type: Lorna Anderson and Julia Gooding, sopranos; Christopher Robson, counter-tenor; Martyn Hill, tenor; Simon Grant, bass; with Crispian Steele-Perkins brilliantly heading up the group of baroque trumpets which intervened apocalyptically after the words 'Thou shalt come to be our judge', and fanfared and pranced through the score. Fugal andante triumphalism was the predominant mode, but Ivor Bolton kept it swinging, and the instrumental colours and phrases were as bright and curvy as a painted baroque sky populated with cherubs. The programme was completed by Purcell's O Sing unto the Lord; Handel's Dettingen Anthem; and Handel's Silete Venti, where the strings came in like furious zephyrs, their eddies stilled by the smiling Lorna Anderson, true and lively as an oboe.

The Lufthansa Festival continues to Friday. Details on 071-434 4003

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