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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Dido and Aeneas (1689)
Susan Graham (soprano)  - Dido
Ian Bostridge (tenor) – Aeneas
Camilla Tilling (soprano) - Belinda
Cécile de Boever (soprano) - Second Woman
Felicity Palmer (soprano) - Sorceress
David Daniels (counter-tenor) - Spirit
Paul Agnew (tenor) – Sailor
European Voices
Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm
rec. Arsenal de Metz, March 2003
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5034222 [52:54]
Experience Classicsonline

Back comes Emmanuelle Haïm’s 2003 recording of Dido and Aeneas in rapidly overhauled guise. This Virgin Classics re-release bears a Gramophone Recommends rosette on the booklet and is part of a relatively extensive reissue programme that sports the same rubric.
Some in the series are relative disappointments – Anderszewski’s much praised Diabelli variations, Kyung-Wha Chung’s lethargic Beethoven and Bruch concertos with Tennstedt, Sarah Chang’s torpid Dvořák with Colin Davis and Nigel Kennedy’s gruesome Elgar with Rattle. But this Dido, fortunately, is not of their ilk. This is a fine recording and offers real pleasure.
The playing of Le Concert d’Astrée is both sensitive and subtle. We can gauge its invention from the overture and in the playing behind Dido’s first entry Ah! Belinda where the instrumental immediacy projects real character and tension. Haïm stresses the expressive depth of this scene, mining it richly and – it seems to me – explicitly aligning it to Dido’s farewell, thus creating the two powerful expressive columns through which the rest of the opera operates as an arch. If that’s the intention, if that’s where Haïm locates the core expressive moments, then it works very successfully. With drooping wings incidentally and revealingly is taken quite briskly, unsentimentally and no undue lingering.
Fear no danger is elegantly sprung – the accompaniment includes a nicely audible baroque guitar – and the chorus, European Voices, sounds eminently well drilled but not at all manicured. The dynamic guitar figures strongly in Act I’s If not for mine, the scene where Aeneas and Dido are together alone. It’s a scene full of tactile energy and dynamism – some may in fact find it too much so – but it richly conveys the emotional urgency underling their meeting. The guitar also dominates the Second Woman’s Act II Scene II Of she visits with blunt, rhythmic attacks – almost a “pop” sensibility at work here. The thunderclaps of the opening of the second Act are also visceral and really rather realistic though the Hammer Horror groans of the Furies dance are a little immodestly done.
I’ve concentrated on the orchestral and choral properties and so far said nothing about the solo singing. Susan Graham is an expressive but not overly static heroine. In her exchanges with Aeneas she proves quick, urgent, compelling. In her opening and closing moments she retains regal dignity; good diction and fine trills as well. Ian Bostridge is better than I’d perhaps unfairly anticipated. Some native tenors have adopted a bank managerish approach to the role but Bostridge is commendably straight with what is, any case, a difficult role to bring to life. Felicity Palmer is the Sorceress – powerful and convincing – and David Daniels pops up as the Spirit. Paul Agnew, another luxury in the cast, throws himself, Francis Drake-like, into his role of the Sailor.
I’m not sure what’s happened to my review copy. A huge chunk of the text is missing so if this matters to you check before you buy. But a warm welcome back to a first class recording, one that is more agile than the more ponderous René Jacobs for instance, whilst not quite exploring the ultimate in gravity of the old Anthony Lewis recording.
Jonathan Woolf
see also review by Kirk McElhearn


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