On Sunday at National Presbyterian Church, Robert Shafer led his highly regarded 140-voice City Choir of Washington, an orchestra, and four superb vocal soloists in a generally impressive account of George Frideric Handel’s four Coronation Anthems, along with Handel’s “Dettingen Te Deum.” Shafer brought this celebratory music to life as much as possible.
For the familiar opening anthem,“Zadok the Priest,” Shafer’s detailed gestures brought precise, instantaneous responses from the performers. He carefully shaped phrasing and timbres, maintained martial tempos, and adjusted volume levels to suit texts that Handel had turned into emotive moments even for single words.
Whether by themselves or in various duos, trios and quartets, the well-balanced soloists (soprano Rachel Evangeline Barham, mezzo Alexandra Christoforakis, tenor Steven Soph, bass James Edward Rogers) blended smoothly with each other as well as with the chorus. Especially striking was Christoforakis’s dark-hued mezzo, equipped with the coloratura agility of a high tenor (a part often sung by men in the baroque). The Te Deum offered the trumpets, oboes, and timpani a chance to shine. And they did.
Going against custom for such lengthy works, Shafer took the lead in encoring an anthem that had run into trouble in the chorus earlier in the program. This second chance proved more successful, even if distasteful to some audience members.
Cecelia Porter is a freelance writer.