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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
A Purcell Songbook
Hark! Hark! How all things [1.43]
Crown the altar, deck the shrine [2.28]
If music be the food of love [3.25]
Not all my torments [1.58]
O, O let me weep [6.32]
I attempt from love's sickness to fly [1.20]
Olinda in the shades unseen [1.03]
Urge me no more [3.17]
Bess of Bedlam [3.43]
Lovely, lovely Albina [2.10]
Sweeter than roses [3.12]
Dear pretty youth [1.55]
When first Amintas sued for a kiss [1.55]
The cares of lovers [1.47]
Ye gentle spirits of the air [1.50]
An evening Hymn [4.17]
Emma Kirkby (soprano); Christopher Hogwood (organ and spinet); Richard Campbell (viola da gamba); Catherine Mackintosh (violin); Anthony Rooley (lute)
Rec. Forde Abbey, October 1982. DDD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 7467 [46.09]

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Purcell’s contribution to English music is one of the greatest there has ever been, the natural successor to Weelkes, Tomkins and Gibbons, and perhaps unsurpassed in terms of individuality and responsiveness to text until Britten. That goes some way to explain the latter’s attraction to performing the music of his great compatriot.

It says much for Purcell’s strength of writing that even with different forces at work he comes across as newly minted and wearing the years lightly. Rather unsurprisingly, these are qualities that shine out of this release.  Kirkby’s crystal-clear tones catch the words so effortlessly as to immediately beguile the ear, with incisiveness or long-floated crispness, as for example in “Crown the altar, deck the shrine”.

The inclusion of such Purcellian sweetmeats as “If music be the food of love” or “I attempt from love’s sickness to fly” will bring this release into direct competition with the recordings of Alfred Deller in the affections of many collectors. Kirkby, ably supported by husband Rooley and co., more than hold their own. Whilst they may not displace Deller they do provide an insightful alternative, should Deller not be to your taste.

I was particularly struck by the sensitive intimacy brought to “O, O let me weep” – truly a plaint if ever there was. Richard Campbell’s viola da gamba contrasting with the brighter though refined tone of Catherine Mackintosh’s violin provides as fine a wrought backdrop to Kirkby’s voice as one is likely to hear. More upbeat items such as “Dear pretty youth” find a somewhat boyish tone and fine piano singing adopted to pleasing effect.

The recording, typical of Decca’s early eighties style, is faithful and unobtrusive. The notes – lacking texts – provide a useful guide. This is classic Kirkby and Purcell, and quality (if not quantity) from first note to last.

Evan Dickerson



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