> PURCELL The Fairy Queen 5619552 [KM]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)

The Fairy Queen

Lorraine Hunt soprano
Catherine Pierard soprano
Susan Bickley mezzo-soprano
Howard Crook tenor
Mark Padmore tenor
David Wilson-Johnson bass
Richard Wistreich bass
The Schütz Choir of London
London Classical Players, Roger Norrington direction
Rec. November 1993, Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios, London.
VIRGIN VERITAS 5619552 [122.04]
Budget price


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The Fairy Queen is one of Henry Purcell's most popular operas. Full of memorable orchestral music and arias, this work, based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, is very accessible and a real pleasure to listen to again and again. The opera's music has a wide variety of orchestrations, showing Purcell's talent in many registers. This recording, made in 1993 following a performance of the work as part of the London Purcell Experience festival, is a brilliant set, with excellent soloists and true energy from all the musicians involved.

What a wonderful sound this orchestra presents - refined and crisp, with no excesses or shortcomings. Norrington has succeeded in presenting this work with a level of clarity and grace that is exemplary. Energetic at times, intense at others (See, even night herself is here, sung by Susan Bickley, is a model of dramatic intensity and subtle colours), the score comes to life with light and shadows, and with near-perfect sound. The instruments all come through with real clarity, there is no excess of reverberation; this could be considered a near perfect recording.

Norrington uses a historically-informed approach, keeping the forces at a restrained level (23 chorists, 25 instrumentalists), using original instruments. Mark Padmore shines, both sopranos, Susan Bickley and Catherine Pierard, are brilliant, and whenever the soloists sing together in duos or trios the results are wonderful. There is a certain playfulness in Lorraine Huntís singing of Ye Gentle Spirits of the Air which is quite compelling, both in her singing and in the vibrant accompaniment.

I was disappointed by Catherine Pierardís singing of If Loveís a Sweet Passion, one of my all-time favourite songs; it is rushed a bit, and the choir is too present. (I have a weakness for the version of this song by Yvonne Kenny, on a DVD of the English National Operaís performance of this work. In spite of the grittiness of the sound, it being a live performance, the song is built up, through reprises and duets among the various characters, to about 7 minutes, with an increasing amount of emotion that brings tears to my eyes and makes me want to turn off the DVD after it and just sit in silence.)

But all things considered, this is one of the finest recordings of the Fairy Queen that you will find. Perhaps a bit short on emotion, it certainly reaches technical summits. Re-released at budget-price, this is worth every penny of its cost. Such wonderful orchestral execution and brilliant singers are hard to find; the two of them together are a treat.
Kirk McElhearn


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