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Henry PURCELL (1659–1695)
O Solitude [6.06]
If music be the food of loveá [3.42]
The fatal hour comes on apace [3.29]
What a sad fate is mine [3.40]
While Thirsisá [1.50]
Air Instrumental (“The Indian Queen”) [1.06]
Air Lent (“Distressed Innocence”) [1.39]
I attempt from Love’s sickness [1.26]
Ask me to love no more [1.23]
Sappho’s Complaint [3.27]
If pray’rs and tears [7.02]
Incassum Lesbia [7.23]
In Cloris all soft charms agree [2.16]
A thousand several ways I tried to hide [0.40]
Intermede Instrumental [0.54]
Bacchus is a pow’r divine [3.06]
Intermede instrumental [0.41]
Song Tune [0.43]
An Elegy upon the death of Mr Thomas Farmer [5.10]
An evening Hymn [3.28]
Gerard Lesne (counter-tenor)
Il seminario musicale (Bruno Cocset (bass de violon); Blandine Rannou (clavecin, orgue positif), Pascal Monteilhet (theorbo))
rec. October 2002, Chapelle d l’ecole Ste Genevieve, Versailles, France
NA¤VE E8915 [59.09]


In many ways, Gerard Lesne has the perfect voice for Purcell. Well, up to a point. Experienced in the music of Purcell’s contemporaries, Lesne sings with a fine sense of line and a good expressive edge to the voice. This is combined with a profound musicality which makes everything he does of interest to the listener. Unfortunately this disc highlights one of Lesne’s rare failings, a lack of sympathy with the English language. His English is awkward, full of distorted vowels and other solecisms. This is a shame as the vocal line itself is pretty much ideal. But to sing Purcell’s songs, the singer must have sympathy with the English language and the ability to communicate it.

Purcell was an innovative and prolific songwriter. Songs were often written for the many popular actors and actresses of the time but what made the genre proliferate was the increasing spread of inexpensive printing. Quite often Purcell’s surviving lute songs are adaptations from his stage works, but re-made anew, frequently for a specific singer. In the Gresham manuscript, written between 1692 and 1695, some of the songs have ruled keyboard staves which remain blank, leaving us to presume that Purcell himself must have accompanied the singer, keeping the accompaniment just in his head.

After five songs Lesne relinquishes the stage and Il Seminario Musicale give lively accounts of an instrumental air from The Indian Queen and the Air lent, ‘Distressed Innocence’. This is the format for the rest of the recital with the instrumentalists going on to perform three instrumental interludes from a British Library manuscript.

In The Queen’s Epicidium, In Cassum Lesbia, Lesne shows us what he can really do. The text is in Latin so that we are not confronted with the problem of Lesne’s English pronunciation. Instead you can appreciate his fine musical line and intelligent way with the song.

He imbues the songs with a wonderful array of colour and depth and the programme is carefully chosen, all of the songs suit his voice perfectly. Lesne is a musical and intelligent singer but I just could not settle to these performances. No matter how much I appreciated his musical talent, his English pronunciation simply gets in the way.

Robert Hugill



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