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Phantasies, Ayres and Chaconys
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
King Arthur: Chaconne, Z628/1 (1691) [3:29]*
Matthew LOCKE (1621-1677)

Suite No. 4 [8:38]

Fantazia No. 6, Z737 (1680) [3:50]
Fantazia No. 7, Z738 (1680) [4:10]
Matthew LOCKE

Theatre suite, MB li, p. 55, 191, 113, 116, 90 [6:09]*

Prelude, ZN773 [1:11]
Dioclesian: Two in one upon a ground, Z627/16 (1690) [2:41]
Matthew LOCKE

Suite No. 3 [10:19]

Fantazia No. 11, Z742 (1680) [3:32]
Fantazia No. 12, Z743 (1680) [3:44]
Theatre Suite, Z631/1, 632/20, 570/6, 626/13, 570/7, 570/9 [12:03]*
Three parts upon a ground, Z731 [4:52] *
The Flautadors Recorder Quartet
*David Miller (theorbo and guitar)
rec. St Andrew’s Church, Toddington, September 2006. DDD
DEUX-ELLES DXL 1123 [64:52]

As The Flautadors point out in their booklet note there’s contemporary evidence that recorders were often used both in court and the theatres in Purcell’s time, though "the recorder quartet never appeared as such". Soprano, alto, tenor and bass recorders can play music in four parts mainly intended for strings. However, their fuller tone and rather more diffuse sound creates a subtle change in the impact of the music.

Fantazia 6 begins with a very bright, assertive descant soprano recorder and the others lively in imitation. Its slow section (tr. 6 1:32) is tense in its sustained deliberation after which its quick one (2:37) is cheerful and at peace with itself before the slow coda (3:18) formally rounds things off. I compared a consort of viols, the 2005 recording by the Ricercar Consort/Philippe Pierlot (Mirare MIR 012). Their beginning is sheenier in its top line and lighter in imitation, a more cultivated sound and flowing contours but not as buoyant in character as the Flautadors whose emotion is more up front. The Ricercar slow section has more poise and telling harmonies in its quieter, more reserved manner but the Flautadors provide a more direct tension. The Ricercar quick section is lightly joyous, the Flautadors’ has more glistening delight and glee about it before a satisfying coda even if it doesn’t have the Ricercar dignity.

In Fantazia 7 the Flautadors start coolly contemplative. The chromatic harmonies have an icy clarity and there’s a pleading that’s fraught and insistent with a slightly faster pulse than the Ricercar, overall timing 4:17 against 4:10. By contrast the Ricercar opening is warmly ruminative and the pleading quality is gentle. The Flautadors’ brisk section (tr. 7 2:01), on the other hand, has a stimulating, piping manner where the Ricercar is lighter yet with an element of abandon. The Flautadors’ slow section (2:31) remains assertive before a neat quick one (3:16) and slightly more sedate ‘drag’ coda (3:31). The Ricercar find more nuance later in the slow section, after the rests, still some abandon in the quick one and a rather more spacious coda.

Fantazia 11 is well suited to recorders: with their gently rising sunny nature the entries come serene and confident. The Ricercar recording is of a more reflective cast but still quite appreciative and glowing. A more wary, clouded spell occurs in the section marked ‘drag’ (tr. 19 1:27), directly addressed by the Flautadors though not, like the Ricercar, tenderly, searchingly expressive. In the brisk section which follows (2:12) the sunshine bursts out again and the recorders piquantly display a cheery ebullience in the abundant running quavers, though the Ricercar faster tempo, 3:17 against the Flautadors’ 3:32, allows the viols a defter, more darting, glinting character here.

Fantazia 12 begins with a more sober, soulful theme. The Flautadors are more outward looking and dramatic than the Ricercar inward looking, expressive flowing lament. The Flautadors’ quick section (tr. 20 2:05) is more animated and agitated.

Only one other currently available CD presents Purcell chamber and theatre music on recorders, that by La Simphonie du Marais/Hugo Reyne (Virgin 561937 2). Just 3 tracks out of 27 both have in common. The Prelude for unaccompanied recorder is presented by the Flautadors, it’s not documented which one, in sepulchral register of, I presume, bass recorder, with something of the gravity of its ground bass foundation yet also able to take wing in semiquaver runs. The contrasts in timing and phrasing give the piece an improvisatory feel. Hugo Reyne plays an alto recorder in more lively fashion and with more emphasis on progression, timing at 1:02 against the Flautadors’ 1:11, but the latter account makes a fair case for its greater measure.

The chaconne ‘Two in one upon a ground’ from Act 3 of Dioclesian is presented by the Flautadors with a smooth ambience yet also a lively dancing character as befits a theatrical piece. Use of recorders alone, without continuo, emphasises this basic quality. In this performance the ground itself is repeated as a solo at the end, echoing the beginning. Reyne’s account uses two recorders above bass viol and guitar, to more sultry, luxuriant effect but the Flautadors are considerably pacier, 2:20 without the ground repeat against Reyne’s 3:14, which makes the imitation between the upper two recorders seem more spontaneous and the whole more freshly appealing.

‘Three parts upon a ground’ is given a performance by the Flautadors with theorbo continuo which is creamy in tone yet flows with appreciable purpose, bubbling over with happy imitation between the recorders, a celebration of assured delivery and convivial atmosphere. Particularly memorable are the scampering semiquavers in the eighth appearance of the ground bass (tr. 27 1:09), the emphatic cavorting dotted rhythms from the twentieth appearance (3:12) and the fluttering semiquavers in the twenty third (3:42). Reyne’s account is rather stiffened by a much heavier bass provided by bass viol, theorbo and harpsichord though the recorders chirp away over it in the faster rhythms merrily enough. The Flautadors are a little slower, 4:52 against Reyne’s 4:43, less flightily virtuosic, but the piece’s structure and contrasts are thereby more apparent while the performance itself is engaging enough.

Purcell’s stage music is featured at the beginning of this CD with the Chaconne from King Arthur perkily done and a performance of attractive transparency, especially the two uppermost recorders skipping together a third apart in the seventh appearance of the ground (tr. 1 1:14) and even the appearances in F minor from 2:02 seem just cool. Later this CD presents a Theatre Suite of pieces in G minor. The Overture (tr. 21) is one attributed to The Tempest and possibly not by Purcell. The Flautadors give us a concentrated, formal slow introduction and neat, quick second section. In the Curtain Tune from Timon of Athens (tr. 22) the ground bass is heard on its own first so you’re clear about it and can more readily appreciate the 3 recorder parts’ embellishments over it becoming more elaborate, first rhythmically and melodically, then in terms of harmony. The Air from Abdelazer (tr. 23) is sparklingly fast and uninhibited. Were it on strings you’d call it folksy but I doubt they could play it as fast. The Triumphing Dance from Dido and Aeneas (tr. 24) then lets the sunshine in, a C major holiday in this G minor suite, recorders exuberant in high register and guitar adding spice to the repeat. The Jig from Abdelazer (tr. 25) gets a terrific performance, the first recorder imaginatively ornamenting the repeats of the melody and then the whole repeated with guitar and even more embellishment. You can see a dancer on stage really getting into his stride. The final Air from Abdelazer (tr. 26) makes for a fizzing close.

There’s also a Theatre Suite of pieces by Matthew Locke, who showed the possibilities of individuality in theatre and chamber music before Purcell. The ceremonial flourish of the opening of ‘The Fantastick’ (tr. 8) gives way to a lively dance and then from 0:50 a vivacious yet quite courtly Corant. The following Aire (tr. 9) is an assertive, confident dance with somewhat gaunt, pungent harmonies. The Symphony at the descending of Venus (tr. 10) is the only item which can specifically be placed theatrically, in Psyche (1675), as this music assists her chariot to glide smoothly down, a moment of wonder and beauty. The Act Tune (tr. 11) can be nonchalant or, in its repeats, bracing, depending on the recorder on the top line. A jaunty Symphony (tr. 12), with the last 4 bars here repeated a second time, rounds the suite off decisively. In the heading I’ve put the page numbers of the items in the modern edition in Musica Britannica volume 51.

Two of Locke’s six suites from the ‘Consort of Four Parts’ also feature. Suite 4’s opening Fantasia (tr. 2) has clear entries of the four parts in turn, a bold manner, now a chirrupy progression, now sober contrast and stately close. Its following Courante (tr. 3) is cheery, its Ayre (tr. 4) more reflective but still bright in sonority, especially at the close. Its Sarabande (tr. 5) is light, jolly and closest to an actual dance. Suite 3’s Fantasia (tr. 15) is fuller in texture and more intensely contemplative from the outset, the imitation in the second section (1:59) coming as a sunny relief. But its blithe Courante (tr. 16) is increasingly merry, its Ayre (tr. 17) neatly turned if a little studious here, while its Sarabande (tr. 18) trips along without a care in the world.

These recorder performances don’t displace the better known ones on strings but they do offer a fresh perspective. Here is dedicated music-making and an airy recording which make you respect the Flautadors’ initiative, but the exuberance of the theatre pieces is very enjoyable as well.

Michael Greenhalgh


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