Compilations are highly useful in understanding the works of the inexhaustibly tuneful British composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695). He had a few big hits, like the Funeral Music for Queen Mary (which is included here) and the opera Dido and Aeneas (which isn't). But much of his best music is scattered around in small bits, residing within genres that are rather odd from today's perspective. Purcell spent much of his short adult life as a theater composer, and his incidental music, for example, is filled with perfect miniatures…
Alessandro Scarlatti wrote over 600 cantatas, two of which are on this 1987 disc performed by soprano Lynne Dawson and the Purcell Quartet: Correa nel seno amato and Già lusingato appieno. He wrote considerably less keyboard music – and next to nothing compared with the gargantuan achievement of his son Domenico – one of which is on this disc performed by Robert Woolley, the harpsichordist of the Purcell Quartet: the Variations on La Folia. With the chamber cantatas flanking the keyboard variations, this disc is a wonderful program of the elder Scarlatti's art. Though there are some who might argue English soprano Dawson is perhaps too reserved for this repertoire, none would argue that she doesn't have a clear voice and a supple technique. And while there are others who might argue the Purcell Quartet is perhaps too stringent for the repertoire, none would argue they don't play together with consummate ease and they don't accompany Dawson with brilliant mastery. But there are few who would disparage Woolley's blindingly virtuosic and blazingly demonic La Folia Variations.
The new production of Purcell's The Fairy Queen launched in 1995 by the English National Opera (ENO) was received with great enthusiasm by both the public and musical press. This atmospheric production was prepared by David Pountney, Robert Israel created the stage set, Dunya Ramicova was responsible for costume design and Quinny Sacks was responsible for the choreography of the dance roles as well as the numerous breathtaking ballet scenes. Under the musical direction of Nicholas Kok, the English National Orchestra played a baroque music which was as crystal clear as it was expressively infectious. Next to outstanding performers of the dancing roles such as Puck (Simon Rice) and the Indian boy (Arthur Pita), an entire armada of excellent singers was summoned up such as one seldom experiences together on the baroque opera stage. These included Yvonne Kenny as Titania, Thomas Randle as Oberon and Richard Van Allan as King Theseus. Jonathan Best, with his comic portrayal of the drunken poet, was loved by the audience and praised highly by the press, while other singers like Michael Chance, Mary Hegarthy, Janis Kelly, Marc Le Brocq and Christopher Ross all contributed their talents to produce an unusual musical theatre experience that has been masterfully preserved on this DVD.
This is an SACD reissue on Alia Vox of a CD originally released in 1996 as Astrée 8717. Fans of Savall know that his conducting reflects similar values to his viola da gamba solos: a nuanced view of phrasing, exceptional attention to the beauty and clarity of textures, and a knowledge of appropriate embellishments. These qualities can be found in some of the outstanding slow movements on this disc, most notably “Love’s a Sweet Passion” from act III of The Fairy Queen . Savall’s version takes 3:06 to play; by comparison, Goodman/Parley of Instruments (Hyperion 67001) gives it to us at 1:34; and Gardiner/English Baroque Soloists (Archiv Produktion 992902) is not much longer. It isn’t that Savall’s Le Concert des Nations plays twice as much content, but that they inflect far more, slowing for embellishments to the theme, pausing at the climax of a phrase, or at its conclusion. It’s anyone’s guess which approach is more authentic, but I find Savall’s phrasing, along with a slightly lower pitch and predominance of darker string instruments, mines the natural melancholy of Purcell’s piece to greater advantage without danger of anachronism.
This release marks a new collaboration between Linn Records and Retrospect Ensemble. Released to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the birth of “Henry Purcell: Ten Sonata’s in Four Parts”, is performed by Retrospect Trio, a group formed under the umbrella of the larger Retrospect brand. The release date will coincide with the launch of Retrospect, formerly known as The King’s Consort.
The young, virtuoso a cappella ensemble VOCES8 return to disc on Signum with a sumptuous collection of early works by Henry Purcell, one of England’s greatest composers. Joined by the specialist early music ensemble ‘Les Inventions’, the group explores Purcell’s astoundingly diverse output. There is hardly a genre in which he did not express himself: anthems, odes, funeral music, semi–operas, masques, sonatas, consort–music, songs and catches populate his extraordinarily multifaceted oeuvre. It is this astonishing diversity that Signum and VOCES8 celebrate.
Given Christine Schäfer’s wide-ranging repertoire, this mixing of 17th-century English and 20th-century American songs is no surprise. Everything about this recital hangs together without strain – even the gear changes between Purcell and Crumb and the Shakespearean quotes spoken by a boy’s voice, sometimes given a rather sinister quality through electronic treatments.