The Masque of Alfred - apart of course from its finale "Rule
Britannia" - has in the 1990s reached CD. Just two years ago a version
was issued with the BBC Music Magazine and now we have this more complete
account (though there were several variants in Arne's own day) from Nicholas
McGegan, an experienced exponent of 18th Century music, recorded
in America and using mainly American performers. And very welcome is it.
If offers 76 minutes of music, 25 minutes more than the BBC CD and if the
OAE's playing on the latter under Nicholas Kraemer often seems rather superior,
the Philharmonic Baroque Orchestra are fully equal to Arne's demands which
include often atmospheric parts for oboes, horns and flute as well as the
basic strings. McGegan uses only four solo singers against the BBC's six.
Best of them for me is the Scottish tenor Jamie MacDougall, taking both the
title role and the less sophisticated one of Corin. Of his two sopranos Jennifer
Smith sings Eltruda and Edith, who has just one aria but a memorably touching
one, Christine Brandes the shorter breathed, often more "folky" parts of
Emma and the Spirit. David Daniels (counter-tenor), the least experienced,
maybe of the four copes well enough with Prince Edward. The chorus sing only
in "Rule Britannia" and to me this makes less impact than on the BBC disc
which uses just the six soloists in chorus. We all know "Rule Britannia",
though and one should be grateful to hear so much of Arne's notably tuneful,
well crafted music in this valuable, well recorded release. The booklet prints
the words in three languages.
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