> Purcell Fantazias BISCD1165 [KM]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)

Fantasia a 3 in D minor
Fantasia a 3 in F major
Fantasia a 3 in G minor
Fantasia a 4 in G minor
Fantasia a 4 in B flat major
Fantasia a 4 in F major;
Fantasia a 4 in C minor
Fantasia a 4 in D minor
Fantasia a 4 in A minor
Fantasia a 4 in E minor
Fantasia a 4 in G major;
Fantasia a 4 in D minor
Fantasia a 4 in A minor (fragment)
Pavan a 4 for three violins
Chacony a 4 in G minor
Fantazia a 5 upon one Note in F major
In nomine a 6 in G minor
In nomine a 7 in D minor

London Baroque
Ingrid Seifert, violin
Jean Paterson, violin
Richard Gwilt, violin/viola
Irmgard Schaller, viola
Mark Andrews, viola
Charles Medlam, director & cello
Richard Campbell, cello
Rec.: January 200, St. Martinís, East Woodhay, Hampshire, England.
BIS CD-1165 [71.55]


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When Henry Purcell was 21 years old, he wrote a series of Fantasias for 3 to 7 viols, ostensibly as an exercise in counterpoint. Echoes of Bachís Art of Fugue can be seen, although Purcell never intended these works for publication, nor are they so firmly interrelated as Bachís are by a single fugal theme. Purcell never finished this set of works; the manuscript contains blank pages with titles referring to more fantasias.

These works, which border on the obscure and dense, are among the greatest works ever written for a string ensemble, and deserve to be recognized at the same level as Beethovenís late string quartets or some of Haydnís finest compositions. But these fantasias lack the familiar structure of the 19th century string quartet, and are clearly works that are akin to the many works written in England for viol consort.

This recording by London Baroque eschews "original" instruments and performs these pieces more as string quartets than as consort music, playing them on violins, violas and cellos. Yet, surprisingly, the music does not suffer from this change of instrumentation. The sound London Baroque achieves has the same rich, lush tone as heard in a viol consort, although it is clearly noticeable that they are not playing viols.

Twelve of these pieces are for four instruments, though the composition is different than a string quartet. London Baroque plays with two violas, rather than two violins. In addition, they give three pieces not usually included with the fantasias: a pavan, a chacony, and a fragment of another fantasia a 4.

The music is lively and rhythmic in the F major fantasia a 4, showing Purcellís taste for energetic compositions, but some of the works are closer to what listeners familiar with viol consort music would expect: slow, introspective pieces where the instruments weave a texture of sound, where they strive more for unity than individual lines. This recording achieves this sound brilliantly, and in no way pales in comparison to the best recordings for viols (Jordi Savall and Hesperion XX; Phantasm).

This beautiful disc, a recording of some of the finest string music ever written, shows that the right performers can play such works on "modern" instruments. London Baroque gives us one of the finest recordings of these works, which deserve greater recognition. Whether you are a lover of viol music, or string quartets, this disc will show you a unique approach to this form.

Kirk McElhearn

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