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.