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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Dido and Aeneas (1689) [52.34]
Susan Graham (Dido); Ian Bostridge (Aeneas); Camilla Tilling (Belinda); Cécile de Boever (Second Woman); Felicity Palmer (Sorceress); David Daniels (Spirit); Paul Agnew (Sailor).
European Voices/Simon Halsey
Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haïm (harpsichord)
rec. March, 2003, Arsenal de Metz, France.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5034222 [52.34] 


Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas has always been popular. First performed in 1689, this chamber opera can be seen as a distillation of Purcell’s style in miniature. Part of its popularity may be due to its length; at less than one hour, it contains no fat, as many longer operas of the time do. In addition to being short, its individual numbers are also brief. In this recording, only one aria (Ah! Belinda) is over four minutes long, and most sections are less than two minutes. This can be frustrating, as one may want them to go on longer, their music being so beautiful. 

On the other hand this work is short enough that one can listen to it more often the better to appreciate it. And here is a version that both deserves and stands up to repeated listenings. With a warm, lush sound, Emmanuelle Haïm leads Le Concert d’Astrée through this wonderful performance recorded in France in 2003. The two lead voices should be enough to attract you to this particular recording: Susan Graham is splendid as Dido, and Ian Bostridge excellent as Aeneas. The choir is also top-notch, and even the supporting cast includes such leading voices as David Daniels and Paul Agnew. The only exception is the voice of the “First Witch”, unnamed in the credits, at the beginning of Act II: she sings in a different style and tone from what this music needs. Her voice is huge, aggressive, vibrato-laden, in stark contrast to those of the other soloists. 

This recording benefits from fine sound, especially in the balance between the soloists and the choir, and one hears the subtler tones, such as the harpsichord and theorbo clearly.

It is no surprise that this recording bears a recommendations from other leading classical review authorities; in fact, it is part of a series of such discs, that highlight key recordings at bargain prices. 

If you’re looking for a great recording of Dido and Aeneas that won’t hit your pocketbook, look no further; this is the one.

Kirk McElhearn 




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