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Odes to Saint Cecilia
Giovanni Battista DRAGHI (c.1640-1708)
From harmony, from heav’nly harmony (1687) [40:06]
John BLOW (1649-1708)
The glorious day is come (1691) [31:21]
Suzie Le Blanc (soprano)
Joseph Cornwell (tenor)
Michael Chance (counter-tenor)
Jozic Koc (bass) (Blow)
Richard Wistreich (bass) (Draghi)
The Parley of Instruments/Peter Holman
The Playford Consort/Richard Wistreich
rec. November 1994

This is another of the Helios re-release series that restores staples of the Hyperion catalogue to a lower price bracket. This Saint Cecilia’s Day ode diptych was recorded in 1994 and makes its welcome reappearance now.
It’s Draghi’s work that has always commanded the greater interest. Partly this is because of its own significant intrinsic merits of course but also because the influence he was to exert over Purcell. Draghi set the Dryden text that Handel was to use for his own ode setting many years later – the one with the gorgeous setting of What passion cannot Muusick raise and quell – and did so with consistent linguistic and musical interest. The opening symphony is stately and controlled with a resiliency that attests to his eloquent control of stylistic matters.  Soprano Suzie Le Blanc copes very well with the demanding divisions in When Nature underneath a heap – those melismas on “arise” are indeed very characteristically Purcellian and we can be fairly sure that the younger man documented Draghi’s Italian style with close study. Michael Chance sings with considerable distinction throughout.  Draghi’s setting is not shy; it’s laid out for pretty large forces and he makes few concessions to technical problems in some of the arias. We can hear as well that the wind writing is pert and apt – and in this performance they are well-pointed comments and relished with verve. The finale, As from the pow’r of sacred days, sees the full force of Draghi’s inspiration. Naturally Purcell’s word setting proved to be far superior to that of Draghi and there are certainly isolated movements that pass unmemorably. But this is a vibrant work and well worth getting to know.
Its companion by Blow is rather more conventional and in that sense perhaps less obviously interesting.  The glorious day is come was composed in 1691, a few years later than the Draghi ode. It’s more of an extrovert work, more public and showy especially in the opening Symphony and is rather more compact as well – lasting thirty minutes to Draghi’s forty. To condemn it as less interesting is perhaps unfair. Blow’s writing is unfailingly intelligent and his interweaving lines in The spheres, those instruments divine is brilliantly accomplished. And first the trumpet’s part affords plenty of opportunities for Joseph Cornwell to flex dextrous tenorial muscles. Perhaps the most intriguing movement is Excess of pleasure now crowd on apace which has a series of almost  “pop” cadences in its melodic profile.
So, yes, it’s unfair on the Blow to judge it poorly against the Draghi. Both are fine works, well performed if a trifle sedately. The annotations are similarly fine and the recorded sound catches the intimate as well as the grand statements with clarity and warmth.
Jonathan Woolf


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