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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Dido and Aeneas (1689)
Nicola Wemyss (soprano) Dido; Matthew Baker (baritone) Aeneas; Francine van der Heijden (soprano) Belinda; Penni Clarke (mezzo) Second Woman; Helene Rasker (contralto) Sorceress; Maaike Poorthuis (soprano) First Enchantress; Yong-Hee Kim (mezzo) Second Enchantress; Rowena Simpson (soprano) Spirit; Richard Zook (tenor) Sailor Musica ad Rhenum Choir; Musica ad Rhenum (Franc Polman, Alida Schat, violins; Örzse Adam, viola; Cassandra L. Luckhardt, viola da gamba; Menno van Delft, harpsichord; David van Ooijen, baroque guitar)/Jed Wentz
Rec. Church Maria Minor, Utrecht, The Netherlands on September 13th-14th, 2004. DDD

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Musica ad Rhenum is a one-to-a-part ensemble that lends a tremendously intimate slant to Purcell's famous piece. That it is small does not diminish whatsoever the effect of the emotions, and the SACD clarity and space if anything heighten the sense of concentration.

Rhythms are well-sprung throughout (just try the fast section of the overture for example). It is vital that Dido and Belinda are distinguishable, and there is no problem here between Nicola Wemyss and Francine van der Heijden. Van der Heijden's light voice at the outset ('Shake the cloud from off your brow') contrasts with Dido's sorrow-laden 'Ah Belinda!'. The tempo moves nicely here, and Wemyss' ornaments are tasteful. Curiously the recording sounds a little too boomy here. Van der Heijden excels in the Grove scene, her voice perfectly pure. Wemyss' final scene, which makes or breaks the performance, is sad if not soul-wrenching, her plea of 'Remember me' touching if not making the soul jangling as, in another performance-world, Kirsten Flagstad does.

The Sorceress, Helene Rasker, is rather pantomimey - not very scary, either. But if there is a weak link it is, alas, the Aeneas (Matthew Baker). He is not very imposing and almost every phrase smacks of the narcissistic.

The size of the chorus is in keeping with its surroundings, and it sings with great variety, from the lusty to the doleful. There are some fun recording effects (the 'witchy' sounds after the Witches' Dance, for example), but this is not over-done. Strangely the choral echoes seem too close to fully make their effect, and the Sailors are the most polite maritime lot I have ever heard! Of the smaller roles,  Maaike Poorthuis's First Enchantress is noteworthy.

Enjoyable, then, even if the soloists are variable. There is much to delight here, not least from the 'orchestra' and its all-pervasive sense of style.

Colin Clarke


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