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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Music for Queen Mary
Come ye sons of Art: Ode for the birthday of Queen Mary (1694) [22:18]
Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem [5:51]
Love’s goddess sure was blind: Ode for the birthday of Queen Mary (1692) [20:04] Music for the funeral of Queen Mary (1695) [8:08]
Funeral Sentences [11:11]
Funeral Anthem of Queen Mary (1695) [2:32]
Kate Royal (soprano); David Hansen, Tim Mead (counter-tenor); Jacques Imbrailo (bass)
Choir of King’s College Cambridge
Academy of Ancient Music/Stephen Cleobury
rec. April 2005, King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, England. DDD
EMI CLASSICS 3 44438 2 [70:03]


A disc which couples an ode by Purcell to celebrate Queen Mary’s birthday and his music for her funeral isn’t unusual. John Eliot Gardiner recorded one in 1976 (now on Apex), Andrew Parrott in 1988 (now on Virgin) and Harry Christophers in 1994 (now on Coro). But in this new release Stephen Cleobury gives us two odes and a verse anthem as well, a selection only otherwise recorded by Robert King between 1991 and 1993 (on Hyperion), scattered over four discs. I shall refer to the Hyperions in comparison.
 
The odes are not King’s College Chapel repertory nor are they altogether suited to its acoustic. They were written for secular performance by mixed soloists and chorus in an acoustic space neither as sacred nor as ample as King’s Chapel. Nevertheless these are suitably grand surroundings. The performances are fine enough to dismiss these qualms about their authenticity. King’s College Choir, as chorus, provides a full bodied repetition of tunes first presented by soloists. In Come ye sons of art, this amounts to a fresh, in no way sacred, repeat of the title words (tr. 3), a starkly arresting ‘The day that such a blessing gave’(tr. 8) and a joyous and lilting finale ‘Thus Nature rejoicing’ (tr. 12).
 
The excellent soloists, from beyond King’s, bring a judicious, clear but not overblown, theatricality to their projection and elaboration of ornamentation on repetition. The famous duet ‘Sound the trumpet’ in particular clearly mimics trumpets, aided by the King’s Chapel acoustic.
 
The Academy of Ancient Music provides smooth and stylish backing. The Come ye sons overture has a forthright, well projected opening with clean rhythms and oboe and trumpet  parts finely and correctly equally balanced, although the Adagio section is rather propelled forward, more earnest than languorous.
 
Unlike other recordings timpani don’t appear in the final chorus, presumably because it was felt that the surviving part from an 18th century manuscript is too elaborate. But a simpler, improvised part could have been provided. Robert King does this (on Hyperion CDA 66598). His instrumental direction has more breadth, ease and sunniness. His soloists colour their projection of the text more, but what Cleobury’s lack in such maturity and subtlety they more than make up for in brio and enthusiasm. Indeed their spontaneity and that of King’s College Choir makes Robert King’s forces seem a little studied. He also uses a chapel choir for this work, that of New College Oxford, and it sounds stiffer than the Cambridge choir, with a slightly forced heartiness in the opening chorus. So, on balance, I prefer Stephen Cleobury’s more animated to Robert King’s more reflective account.
 
This CD places Purcell’s verse anthem, Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem, between the two birthday odes. This should neatly illustrate that the odes structurally are just expanded verse anthems. So the chorus should be reserved for weightier repetition of material presented by solo voices. Here, however, it’s introduced after the opening statement (tr. 13 1:59), not a repetition, rather than (as in Robert King’s recording on Hyperion CDA 66585) kept in reserve for repetition of ‘As we have heard’ in the following section (here 3:23). Cleobury also introduces the chorus at ‘Be Thou exalted’ (4:05) rather than reserve it for the repetition of ‘so will we sing’ (4:36). This results in less contrast in the anthem and weakens the impact of the chorus contributions.
 
Furthermore Cleobury’s direction suffers from a determination to maintain a vibrant momentum. Even in the opening sinfonia: the first section lacks the expressive mystery, expectancy and contemplation of King’s more measured approach; the second doesn’t provide contrasting relief . King’s performance is therefore preferable, even though Stephen Cleobury has a more pleasingly skipping ‘Be Thou exalted’ and lilting Alleluias.
 
In the second birthday ode on this CD, Love’s goddess sure, Cleobury’s insistent, even slightly edgy, progression from the very opening of the sinfonia doesn’t allow any relaxation, though the second section skips and the harmonies, rhythms and imitation are lucidly conveyed. This ‘hothouse forced’ approach continues leavened only by greater flexibility in the strings’ version which follows the counter-tenor’s opening solo (tr. 15 1:23), the bright, crisp repeat of the song ‘Long may she reign’ (tr. 18 0:55) and the indulgently sighing verse (tr. 22) within the final chorus. Admittedly that chorus (from tr. 21) is otherwise excitingly pacy, though its close (tr. 23) is somewhat gabbled, in a fashion which brings to mind the witches’ choruses in Dido and Aeneas.
 
There’s some novel, but I’d say unsuccessful, disposition of soloists. A treble (from King’s Choir) used instead of the authentic soprano for ‘Long may she reign’ lacks the polish and projection of the others. ‘May her blest example’ (tr. 19) is also better suited to soprano than to the counter-tenor used here because it’s a more heroic than reflective piece. It was first deemed properly for counter-tenor in Bruce Wood’s edition used in the Christophers recording, but Christophers assigned it to a tenor! In Cleobury’s recording, as the result of the two changes, the soprano soloist’s first appearance is, somewhat incongruously, in the verse section in the final chorus.
 
Robert King’s recording of Love’s goddess sure (Hyperion CDA 66494) seems to me altogether preferable for more measured tempi which deliver greater spaciousness, airiness and intimacy well suited to this inward-looking piece. This allows room for the soloists to be more expressive and the accompaniment more imaginative. He also gets additional colour by featuring two obbligato recorders to match the counter-tenors in ‘Sweetness of nature’ where Cleobury, like Wood’s edition for Christophers, arguably more correctly, uses violins.
 
The sequence of funeral music makes a moving end to this disc. It begins impressively with a tenor drum processional (tr. 24) painting a vivid sound-picture of a massive presence (including a coffin) approaching, like ranks of drummers in battle array, within the vastness of the King’s Chapel. Purcell’s March for four ‘flatt’ (reverse slide) trumpets (tr. 25) has a chaste simplicity here, yet also expressively tapered dynamic contrasts (as later does Thou knowest, Lord). The Canzona (tr. 26) is more flowing, like a celebration of life before the sober recognition of death returns with the reprise of the March. Then the drum recessional: the presence and coffin depart.
 
At Queen Mary’s funeral the anthem Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts, accompanied by the trumpets (tr. 31) allows a comparison with Purcell’s setting of the same text at the close of his earlier composed funeral sentences (trs. 28-30). These are given a fine performance, with soloists (from King’s Choir) bringing an appropriate intimacy, fragility and humility before the double emphasis of the choruses. They repeat the preceding music and in markedly fuller sonority, to searing effect in the rising chromatic scale of the second chorus, ‘Yet, O Lord, most mighty’ (tr. 29, 3:08). This is a more contemplative and raw performance than the sheenier, more beautiful but more luscious and affected - purer baroque, if you like - Robert King account.
 
I prefer Cleobury’s presentation to that by Robert King (Hyperion CDA 66677). The latter’s funeral sequence begins with a drum processional of five drummers. This has a more drilled nature and less impact than the inexorability of the greater measure of Cleobury’s lone drummer. Robert King’s March is more sonorous but less solemn, his Canzona slower and with more anguish evident. King correctly places the Canzona after Thou knowest, Lord but his placing of Purcell’s Funeral Sentences between this and the March suggests they were part of the ceremony, which they were not. The most authentic recorded realization of this is by Christophers, but is less authentic than Cleobury or King in using a choir of mixed voices.  
 
To sum up, these are spirited and well styled performances from Cleobury, with some questionable practices. The disc as a whole presents a unique, generous and contrasted selection, a touching journey from joy to remembrance.
 
Michael Greenhalgh
 

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