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CD: AmazonUK

Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Purcell Edition III - Odes, Anthems and Ceremonial Music
CD 1 - Occasional Odes [78:50]
Hail, Bright Cecilia [53:15]
Jennifer Smith (soprano); Ashley Stafford, Brian Gordon (counter-tenors); Paul Elliott (tenor); Stephen Varcoe (baritone); David Thomas (bass)
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
Come, ye sons of art, away [25:35]
Felicity Lott (soprano), Charles Brett, John Williams (counter-tenors), Thomas Allen (bass)
Monteverdi Choir, Monteverdi Orchestra/John Eliot Gardiner
CD 2 - Welcome Songs and Elegies [68:31]
Welcome viceregent of the mighty king [12:33]
O dive custos Auriacae domus [6:34]
Raise, raise the voice [12:33]
Incassum Lesbia, rogas [7:37]
Young Thyrsis' fate, ye hills and groves, deplore [5:21]
Why, why are all the Muses mute? [23:51]
soloists, Tragicomedia/Stephen Stubbs, Erin Headley
CD 3 - Anthems [70:17]
Rejoice in the Lord, alway [8:56]
Blow up the trumpet in Sion [7:47]
O God, thou art my God [4:18]
Remember not, Lord, our offences [3:05]
James Bowman (counter-tenor); Nigel Rogers (tenor); Max van Egmond (bass)
Choir of King's College Cambridge/Sir David Willcocks
Leonhardt-Consort/Gustav Leonhardt
I was glad when they said unto me [4:00]
O Lord, rebuke me not [9:27]
Praise the Lord, O my soul [11:00]
Now that the sun hath veiled his light [5:00]
Chanticleer/Joseph Jennings
Capriccio Stravagante
CD 4 - Anthems and Sacred Songs [70:21]
Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei [6:43]
My beloved spake [10:15]
O God, thou hast cast us out and scatter'd us abroad [4:05]
Hear my prayer, O Lord [2:22]
Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary (1695) [19:21]
In guilty night [10:19]
Close thine eyes and sleep secure [3:56]
Lord, what is man [5:37]
Tell me some pitying angel, quickly say [7:38]
Monteverdi Choir; Equale Brass Ensemble; English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
rec. no details provided
WARNER CLASSICS 2564-69140-7 [4 CDs: 288:00]
Experience Classicsonline

Warner's repackaging of their Purcell recordings continues to progress well with this splendid edition focusing on this, perhaps the most continuously famous section of Purcell's output: his religious and ceremonial vocal music. It contains an admirably wide-ranging selection with all of his most familiar church and commemorative music, together with plenty of lesser known jewels. Furthermore, there is an eclectic range of performers and performing style so that there will be something here for everyone.

The backbone of the set belongs to John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists in recordings from the 1970s, before they moved to Archiv. They are on dependably excellent form here, and they draw real praise for the sheer variety of styles that they encompass. The famous Funeral Music for Queen Mary is solemn and heavy without ever sounding portentous, while Thou knowest, Lord comes as a beautiful still centre to the collection. At the opposite end of the scale, Hail, Bright Cecilia is effulgent and celebratory, as befits its purpose as an elaborate ceremonial ode. The soloists, all drawn, I suspect, from the Monteverdi Choir, take each individual part with character and flair, and the sense of drive and momentum never fades throughout the work's long duration. In contrast, the other item on disc 1, Come, ye sons of art, away, has a rhythmic swing which is instantly winning. There is an immediate sense of joy and celebration which is again entirely fitting as the ode was composed for Queen Mary's birthday in 1694. The choir seems to bend and flex with every bar, as does the superb Monteverdi Orchestra playing, for once, on modern instruments. The other anthems on Disc 4, often unaccompanied, are thoughtful and intense, most notably Jehova quam multi sunt hostes mei, where the choir traces the poet's transition through despair to confidence in God's provision. The four items that close this disc are more intimate affairs, and Dawn Upshaw's dramatic instincts really distinguish the final two which feel more like dramatic cantatas than sacred songs.

The other disc of anthems (Disc 3) is equally inspired. It is good to hear the Choir of King's College, Cambridge under Willcocks, with its boy trebles coming as a noteworthy contrast after the English Baroque Soloists. Again, one feels the joy of the dance in Rejoice in the Lord alway, with the soloists and choir blending into one another effortlessly, while Remember not, Lord, our offences is poignant and intense. Moving straight from this into the Chanticleer tracks is something of a jolt as they are a much smaller adult group, but the performances themselves are every bit as convincing in their different style. I was glad sparkles brightly and I really enjoyed their evening hymn, Now that the sun hath veiled his light which, with its ground bass accompaniment, must have been a perfect way to end the ecclesiastical day.

The Welcome Songs and Elegies on the second disc are an important part of Purcell's output. Two of the tracks here are literally welcomes for the new kings, Charles II and James II, though the welcome for James, Why are all the muses mute, really feels more like a funeral lament for his predecessor. There are two other death elegies here for Queen Mary and one for the gentleman Thomas Farmer. The generally doleful tone can be a little hard to stomach after a while, though that's just a matter of personal taste, and there can be no doubts as to the strength of Tragicomedia's subtle and communicative performances which seem ideally catered to the style of this music.

A very successful set, then, containing important music very effectively performed, and at under £20 it's a reliable bargain.

Simon Thompson


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