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Divine Hymns
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei (c.1680) [5:34]
Lord, what is man? Z192 (1693) [6:00]
Hosanna to the highest, Z187 [3:33]
The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation, 'Tell me, some pitying Angel' Z196 (1693) [7:09]
Since God so tender a regard Z143 [4:21]
Funeral Sentences for the death of Queen Mary II; In the midst of Life Z17 and Thou know’st, Lord (before 1682) [5:17]
O all ye people, clap your hands Z138 (c.1680) [2:53]
Saul and the Witch of Endor, 'In guilty night' Z134 (1693) [9:33]
The night is come [3:33]
Close thine eyes and sleep secure Z184 (1688)
An Evening Hymn on a Ground, 'Now that the sun hath veil'd his light' Z193 (1688) [4:22]
William CROFT (1678-1727)
Hymn on Divine Music, 'What art thou'  (1714) [5:07]
John BLOW (1649-1708)
Peaceful is he, and most secure (1688) [2:36]
Salvator mundi [3:13]
Pelham HUMPHREY (1647-1674)
Lord! I have sinned [2:40]
Wilt thou forgive that sin [2:50]
Paul Agnew (tenor)
Konstantin Wolff (bass)
Thomas Michael Allen (counter-tenor)
Hannah Morrison (soprano)
Claire Debono (soprano)
Elizabeth Kenny (theorbo)
Anne-Marie Lasla (viola da gamba)
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie (direction, organ, harpsichord)
rec. Eglise Evangélique Allemande, Paris, September 2006
VIRGIN CLASSICS 3951442 [72:02]
Experience Classicsonline

The disc’s private, devotional title indicates its scope. Most of the music is by Purcell though Blow, Humphrey and Croft are also included – the former two were a decade Purcell’s senior and Croft was one of his successors as organist at Westminster Abbey.
Most of the settings are in English though rather cleverly the disc begins and ends with two Latin motets, one by Purcell and the other by Blow. They introduce the full vocal ensemble - Paul Agnew (tenor), Konstantin Wolff (bass), Thomas Michael Allen (counter-tenor), Hannah Morrison and Claire Debono (sopranos), directed by William Christie who plays harpsichord and organ. Blow’s ethereal five-part motet, Salvator mundi, is especially beautiful. Throughout the disc we experience singing of great purity, spiritual refinement and beauty. Hannah Morrison, for instance, sings Croft’s What art thou? with real simplicity, dead centre of the note intonation, and tonal purity. She responds to the text, as do all the singers, with immediacy and surety.
Agnew’s urgent Hallelujahs in Purcell’s A Divine Hymn attest to his perceptive awareness of the work’s nourishment and succour – sung moreover with all his accustomed intelligence and stylistic intelligence. Thomas Michael Allen is listed as a countertenor but in something such as Pelham Humphrey’s Lord! I have sinned- and in fact throughout the disc - he actually sings high tenor, using the head voice in rather a French fashion. 
Claire Debono, Agnew, and Konstantin Wolff conjoin in a properly dramatic Saul and the Witch of Endor ('In guilty night'). Wolff’s is a strong and resilient presence and Agnew deploys very considerable vocal subtlety in delineating his part; Debono too. The notes link this florid scena quite explicitly to Charpentier but that may well be a reflection as much of Christie’s own stylistic imperatives and the French origin of those notes. Perhaps the most touching work here is Close thine eyes and sleep secure which is shared by Morrison and Wolff and beautifully, chastely done. And An Evening Hymn is sung by Hannah Morrison with exquisite, almost boyish purity.
If I can register a small troubling thought; whilst much of the singing and playing - Elizabeth Kenny (theorbo) and Anne-Marie Lasla (viola da gamba) – is truly lovely I did find myself rebelling against so much of it. An odd thought maybe but the refined purity seems to distance one from some of the more secular implications of the text. An Evening Hymn for instance, though beautifully accomplished, lacks the sense of intimacy and complexity set up in the opposition between body and soul that the text embodies. In my experience only a very few singers assume this burden of explication in their singing – Michael Chance prominently, whose understanding of the weight to be placed on the words “body”, “bed” and “soul” is unparalleled in my experience; his video performance, that is, not the recording now on Brilliant Classics.
Nevertheless I wouldn’t wish to characterise this disc as bloodless beauty. Its communicative powers are strong, the recording is first class and there are trilingual texts. I enjoyed it; but in truth I was seldom really moved.
Jonathan Woolf


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