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
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
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