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Mad Songs
Henry PURCELL Bess of Bedlam [4.01]
John ECCLES Must then a faithful lover [2.31]
John WELDON Reason, what art thou? [4.48]
John ECCLES Oh! Take him gently from the pile [3.32]
ANON Mad Maudlin [3.54]
Henry PURCELL From rosy bow’rs [5.59]
John ECCLES Let all be gay [2.59]
John ECCLES Restless in thought [4.25]
John ECCLES I burn, my brain consumes to ashes [3.44]
Godfrey FINGER While I with wounding grief [2.59]
Henry PURCELL I’ll sail upon the dog-star [1.33]
Daniel PURCELL Morpheus, thou gentle god [5.23]
John ECCLES Love’s but the frailty of the mind [5.15]
ANON Tom of Bedlam [3.48]
Henry PURCELL Let the dreadful engines of eternal will [6.06]
John ECCLES Cease of Cupid to complain [2.19]
Henry PRUCELL Not all my torments [2.30]
John BLOW Lysander I pursue in vain [5.18]
Catherine Bott (soprano), New London Consort
Recorded in Temple Church, London January and November 1990
DECCA THE BRITISH MUSIC COLLECTION 476 2099 [67:13]

 

A delightful collection of songs from 17th century British composers, reflecting that period's fascination with insanity. The mad song became a favoured genre amongst Restoration composers, who delighted in setting their imaginations free to write inventive and impassioned music for the eloquently rambling flights of fancy of men smitten by madness, most usually caused by the bitter darts of love. This disc brings us some of the best of these songs and ranges from Purcell to Blow. Most of these works would have reached audiences as part of plays, although Blow's Lysander, for example, stands free of theatrical ties. The disc opens with Purcell's Mad Bess, the forerunner and model for mad songs of this period, yet, one could argue, a culmination in the genre – a song that was never bettered.

My only criticism with this disc is that, wonderful though these songs are individually, it is a bit too much to hear them one after another without respite, as collected here. There is not a great deal of contrast between the songs, and listening to an entire hour of fairly analogous pieces is quite tough! It is therefore something of a relief to encounter tracks 5, Mad Maudlin, and 14, the charming Tom of Bedlam. These, both by anonymous composers, are more popular-sounding songs, lively and raucous, with catchy tunes and foot-tapping rhythms that make a welcome break. However, there are also some wonderful pieces of Purcell in typically inventive and alluring mood (the beautifully-crafted Let the dreadful engines of eternal will, for example), and some gems by Eccles, too (Cease of Cupid to complain).

Bott's voice is brilliantly versatile, and the first song alone exemplifies this with an impressive change from exquisite beauty and pure clarity to a feigned coarseness with "Bright Cynthia"... She proves equally at home with an impassioned speaking passage in Eccles’ Oh! Take him gently from the pile. Despite repertoire that can strike one as all too similar, Bott pulls this CD off well, imbuing the songs with wit and intelligence, giving dramatic impersonations of the characters in the songs, and gratifying one with impeccable enunciation.

Having seen Bott perform the same, and similar, songs live at St. John's Smith Square in June, I must say that from the point of view of maintaining an audience's interest, this show works better live, where Bott is able to fully engage her spectators with accompanying actions and more talk. And although the accompaniment by the New London Consort on this CD is sympathetic and perfectly accomplished, it also is not as dazzling as it was live, with the ever-effervescent David Owen Norris (harpsichord) and an adroit Mark Levy (viola da gamba).

Em Marshall



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