> Henry Purcell [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Overture (Z 770)
The Tempest (Z 631)
Chacony (Z 730)
If ever I more riches did desire (Z 544)
Trumpet Overture to the Indian Queen (Z 544)
Trumpet Sonata (Z 850)
Meredith Hall (Soprano)
Gillian Keith (Soprano)
Rosemarie van der Hooft (Mezzo-soprano)
Nils Brown (Tenor)
Michael Colvin (Tenor)
Brett Polegato (Baritone)
Paul Grindlay (Bass-baritone)
Robert Stewart (Baritone)
Norman Engel (Trumpet)
Aradia Baroque Ensemble
Kevin Mallon
Recorded in Humbercrest United Church, Toronto May 1997
NAXOS 8.554262 [76.26]

This is a uniformly excellent disc. Its centrepiece is The Tempest, a kind of semi-opera the exact compositional authorship of which remains somewhat obscure. Of the arias and choruses only one – Dear Petty Youth – seems definitively to be by Purcell. The remainder was quite possibly attributed to him post mortem, although Arise, arise ye subterranean winds has long been a popular calling card for bass-baritones down the years (vide Norman Allin and John Brownlee). Its attribution to Purcell now seems dubious at best both on stylistic grounds and those of limitations of compositional time, though only a pedant would forego the huge pleasure to be found both in the music and the performance to be found in this disc recorded in 1997 and issued in 2000.

The source material for the recording is to be found in an early eighteenth copy in the library of the University of Toronto which contains small variants from other known copies and conductor Kevin Mallon has himself has carried out small reconstructive surgery. The work begins with the French-style Overture imported from another source and ends with the magnificent Chacony Z 730. I found their approach to Purcell very much more than attractive. There is an unstylised and relaxed musicality to the shaping of melodic contours that is immediately sympathetic and sounds absolutely right. Furthermore I detected no evidence of over nuanced phrasing or of professorial or academic impositions. The orchestra is aptly sized, stylistically cohesive and technically adroit (listen to the superbly named oboist Wash McClain in his oboe solo during the air Halcyon days).

But felicities abound. The naturalness of the diminuendos in the chorus Around, around we pace, for example, or the authentic sounding wind machine in the Dance of the Winds. The wickedly tinkling bell that accompanies the off beats in the chorus Sea-nymphs hourly may or may not be authentic but I think even Purcell would have approved. Gillian Keith is trippingly elegant and mocking in Dear Pretty Youth abjuring explicit sensuality, much as Paul Grindlay prefers decorum to stentorian bluster in Arise, arise. Michael Colvin’s runs in Your awful voice – no question of that applying to him - are very well taken indeed and Meredith Hall floats her line to superb effect in Halcyon days. Brett Polegato makes a staunch showing in his aria as Neptune See, see the heavens smile and in fact singers and band are in accord in this recording, which does fitting justice to a problematic but delightful score – whoever wrote it.

The pleasures are only compounded by the fillers, an excellent If ever I more riches did desire, written to a setting of Abraham Cowley’s poem, a mini cantata probably written for court, and the Trumpet Sonata (Z 850) played by Norman Engel and Stephanie Martin in fine style.

Altogether this is strongly persuasive and pleasurable disc with a well-directed band and with young voices in one accord responding to the texts with style and charm.

Jonathan Woolf

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