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Henry PURCELL (1659 - 1695) A Purcell Collection Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem (Z 46) [7:25] Dido and Aeneas (Z 626): To the hills and the vales [2:30] Now does the glorious day appear (Z 332): By beauteous softness
mix'd with majesty [3:34] O God, thou art my God (Z 35) [3:51] King Arthur (Z 628): How happy the lover [6:19]; 'Cold
Song' (What power art thou) [4'26] The Prophetess, or the History of Dioclesian (Z 627): Behold, o
mightiest of Gods [3:22] My heart is inditing of a good matter (Z 30) [15:03] Come, ye sons of art, away (Z 323): Bid the virtues [3:17] Hail! Bright Cecilia (Z 328): Hail! Bright Cecilia [4:20] Come, ye sons of art, away (Z 323): Strike the viol [3:55] Thomas MORLEY (1557/1602)
Second Dirge Anthem/ Henry PURCELL Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts (Z 58) [5:09] King Arthur (Z 628): Fairest isle [4:40] The Tempest (Z 631): Full fathom five
Voces8, Les Inventions/Patrick Ayrton, Barnaby Smith
rec. 12-16 August 2013, Eglise Notre-Dame, Herment, France. DDD
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD375 [70:18]
Henry Purcell is not exactly what musicologists sometimes call a
'minor master'. On the contrary, his music is almost unanimously admired
and frequently performed and recorded. In his liner-notes Patrick
Ayrton rightly compares him with Johann Sebastian Bach, and one could
add some other composers of the same stature, such as Monteverdi or
Charpentier. A critic once said that he had never heard a bad note
from Purcell, and it is not difficult to agree. That makes a disc
like the present one a little superfluous. The rear inlay says that
it is "an invitation to stroll through the world of one of England's
greatest composers". Is that really necessary, considering Purcell’s
In a concept like this it is inevitable that several excerpts from
larger pieces are included. I have to admit that I don't like this.
The isolation of single pieces from a larger work is often unsatisfactory.
This disc includes a particularly telling example: the 'Cold Song'
from King Arthur. It is quite effective if performed as part
of the whole, but without its context it makes much less sense. Moreover,
if performances are good - as these are - one is disappointed not
to hear the whole piece.
One of the highlights is My heart is inditing, amongst his
best-known compositions, and a masterpiece. The opening sinfonia bears
witness to the French influence: the slow first section with its dotted
rhythms reminds us of the overtures from Lully's operas, when the
king entered the theatre. This connection makes much sense as this
anthem was written for the coronation of James II in 1685. Here we
hear the instrumental ensemble Les Inventions in its full
glory. Voces8 gives a very fine performance of the vocal parts. The
voices blend beautifully, and thanks to the minimal vibrato the harmonic
peculiarities come off perfectly. It also results in a high degree
of transparency. The solo episodes are nicely sung.
Some of them show their qualities in the solo pieces: Barnaby Smith
is especially impressive in 'Strike the viol', although the tempo
of this song is probably a little too fast. Andrea Haines makes the
best of 'Fairest Isle', one of Purcell's most famous airs, and often
sung as an encore. Over the years I have heard many disappointing
or even horrible performances, marred by wide vibrato. Ms Haines'
performance has a kind of naïveté which is spot-on. The ritornello
between the first and the second stanza is another highlight, especially
thanks to the beautiful ornamentation of first violinist Shunske Sato.
Dingle Yandell does well in the 'Cold Song', but I wonder whether
the interpretation is a shade too emphatic. Maybe a more restrained
and subtle approach would make a stronger impression. However, as
I indicated above, it is not easy to perform such a piece out of its
The funeral anthem Thou knowest, Lord is one of the most
beautiful and moving pieces ever written. It is interesting that it
is performed here as the last part of the Burial Music by Thomas Morley.
Purcell's anthem replaces the missing last section. It remains pretty
close to the style of Morley, but Purcell adds his own mark in his
treatment of harmony. Voces8 shows that it is well suited to earlier
music as Morley's setting gets a very good performance. Purcell's
motet makes a lasting impression in this performance.
Even if you have most of Purcell's music on disc in your collection
you should not miss this 'sampler'. It includes some of the finest
performances I have heard in recent years. I strongly hope that these
two ensembles will further delve into Purcell's oeuvre and make us
happy with more recordings. Even though I don't like performances
of excerpts from larger works, the quality of this disc make me nominate
it as Recording of the Month.