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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
The Complete Ayres for the Theatre
Crispian Steele-Perkins (trumpet) ¹
Crispian Steele-Perkins (trumpet), Stephen Keavy (trumpet) ²
The Parley of Instruments/Roy Goodman
rec. October 1994, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Full tracklist at end of review
HYPERION CDS44381-383 [3 CDs: 74:13 + 65:41 + 68:42]


Experience Classicsonline

The consolidation of Hyperion’s Ayres for the Theatre in three well-filled CDs, housed in a standard box is very welcome. The performances were standard bearers at the time and they continue to be so over a decade after they were issued. The Ayres represented the first printed collection of incidental music for use in London theatres and the memorial volume was published in 1697. Purcell had died two years previously and the preparatory work was likely to have been by others, and the editor – possibly Purcell’s brother, Daniel – took pains to vary running orders and to ensure that key relationships didn’t prove too jarring. This series of performances is unusual inasmuch as it sought to preserve the Ayres as they were published, and to present a kind of concert suite. There is also an appendix of sorts, a series of suites that were never published in the Ayres.
The music derives from plays and semi-operas, naturally, and in the main consists of brief dance music, though there are several purely instrumental versions of well-known airs such as Fairest Isle, which is possibly the most famous of them. It’s possible that Purcell arranged some himself. The idea of the publication was not merely opportunistic, as it was aimed at introducing such music in a domestic setting; indeed there was a positive torrent of published theatre suites from other composers of the time published in the first decade or so of the eighteenth century.
The shapely and attentive performances sow the music to its best advantage and the editorial re-ordering means that suites can be enjoyed in their entirety. You can, for example, admire the rhythmic vivacity of Dioclesian and its sprightly Country Dance, or the delightful Song Tune – which auditors will instantly recognise as How Blest Are Shepherds from King Arthur. It’s played with infectious zeal, Holman and his ensemble never taking anything for granted, always ensuring that rhythms are sprung, that sonorities are affectionate but bracing. Similarly I was taken by something as seemingly simple as the Jig from The Fairy Queen, in which the chugging swing is brilliantly realised. It demonstrates how well characterised and richly attentive to details are all these performances. This applies as much to the Rondeau that ends The Indian Queen as to the terrific trumpet playing in the same suite. It also applies to zesty command illustrated in The Old Batchelor – its Rondeau a highlight – or indeed to the far less well known music from Distress’d Innocence.
These little known suites do a very useful service for the listener who might know, say, Abdelazar but not Bonduca or The Double Dealer. Note the equestrian vigour of the concluding Air from The Virtuous Wife. The series of overtures and airs throughout prove vivaciously bracing and they are not all there is, as previously noted. Crispian Steele-Perkins takes a large share in the remainder of the music not included in the 1697 volume and his virtuosity is a tonic, whether in martial or more consoling music.
Needless to say there are no caveats about this set. It’s to be enjoyed on a suite by suite basis.
Jonathan Woolf

Full Tracklist
CD 1
The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian, Z627 (1690) [13:15]
Overture  [3'58]
Preludio  [2'12]
Song Tune 'Let the soldiers rejoice'  [1'12]
Trumpet Tune  [0'55]
Country Dance  [1'28]
Air  [0'56]
Hornpipe  [1'03]
Air. Trumpet Tune  [0'27]
Canaries  [0'51]
King Arthur, or The British Worthy, Z628 [19:56]
Overture  [3'38]
Air  [1'06]
Air  [1'18]
Song Tune 'Fairest Isle'  [1'35]
Hornpipe  [0'42]
Hornpipe 'Come, shepherds'  [0'49]
Song Tune 'How blest are shepherds'  [1'27]
Air  [1'36]
Song Tune 'Round thy coasts'  [1'12]
Song Tune 'Come if you dare'  [1'12]
Trumpet Tune  [0'44]
Trumpet Tune  [1'05]
Chaconne  [3'17]
The Fairy Queen, Z629 [27:50]
Overture  [2'33]
Hornpipe  [0'57]
Air  [1'07]
Air  [0'53]
Rondeau  [1'50]
Preludio  [1'54]
Hornpipe  [1'03]
Overture. Symphony while the Swans Come Forward  [2'00]
Song Tune 'If love's a sweet passion'  [1'34]
Jig  [1'07]
Dance for the Fairies  [0'57]
Air 4 in 2. Dance for the Followers of Night  [2'15]
Song Tune 'Sing while we trip it'  [1'11]
Air  [1'26]
Air  [1'32]
Song Tune 'Thus happy and free'  [1'02]
Chaconne. Dance for the Chinese Man and Woman  [2'39]
Air  [1'32]
The Indian Queen, Z630 [13:00]
Overture  [3'17]
Trumpet Tune  [0'35]
Trumpet Tune. I come to sing great Zempoalla's story  [1'13]
Air  [1'13]
Hornpipe  [0'50]
Air  [0'57]
Hornpipe  [1'00]
Air  [1'00]
Song Tune 'We the spirits of the air'  [1'01]
Rondeau  [1'46]
CD 2
The Married Beau, or The Curious Impertinent, Z603 [12:08]
Overture  [2'56]
Slow Air  [0'58]
Hornpipe  [0'40]
Air  [1'21]
Hornpipe  [0'38]
Jig  [1'17]
Trumpet Air  [1'32]
March  [1'13]
Hornpipe on a Ground  [1'22]
The Old Batchelor, Z607 [10:10]
Overture  [3'26]
Hornpipe  [0'56]
Slow Air  [1'17]
Hornpipe  [0'38]
Rondeau  [0'42]
Minuet  [0'55]
Borry  [0'32]
March  [0'55]
Jig  [0'39]
Amphitryon, or The Two Sosias, Z572 [9:33]
Overture  [3'34]
Saraband  [0'43]
Hornpipe  [1'03]
Scotch Tune  [0'54]
Air  [0'56]
Minuet  [0'52]
Hornpipe  [0'34]
Borry, or Gavotte  [0'50]
The Double Dealer, Z592 [11:54]
Overture  [3'35]
Hornpipe  [0'42]
Minuet  [0'53]
Air  [1'38]
Hornpipe  [0'42]
Minuet. Slow Air [1'25]
Minuet  [0'41]
Air  [1'09]
Air  [0'55]
Distress'd Innocence, or The Princess of Persia, Z577 [9:47]
Overture  [2'05]
Air  [0'56]
Slow Air  [1'38]
Air  [0'58]
Hornpipe, or Jig  [0'39]
Rondeau  [1'35]
Air  [0'51]
Minuet  [0'56]
The Gordion Knot Unty'd, Z597 [11:53]
Overture. Grave – Canzona  [3'40]
Air  [0'41]
Rondeau Minuet  [2'03]
Air  [0'51]
Jig 'Lilliburlero'  [0'40]
Chaconne  [1'56]
Air  [0'40]
Minuet  [1'13]
CD 3
Abdelazar, or The Moor's Revenge, Z570 [12:20]
Overture. Grave – Canzona  [2'59]
Rondeau. Hornpipe  [1'33]
Air  [1'19]
Air  [1'17]
Minuet  [0'53]
Air  [1'12]
Jig  [0'34]
Hornpipe  [0'41]
Air  [1'36]
Bonduca, or The British Heroine, Z574 (1695) [13:32] ¹
Overture. Grave – Canzona  [3'59]
Song Tune 'Britons, strike home'  [1'37]
Song Tune 'To arms, to arms'  [1'15]
Air  [1'42]
Hornpipe  [0'54]
Air  [0'44]
Hornpipe  [0'51]
Air  [0'59]
Minuet  [1'17]
The Virtuous Wife, or Good luck at last, Z611 [13:00]
Overture. Grave – Canzona  [2'41]
Song Tune 'Ah, how sweet it is to love'  [2'39]
Slow Air  [1'40]
Air  [0'42]
Preludio  [1'34]
Hornpipe  [0'38]
Minuet  [1'01]
Minuet  [0'50]
Air 'La Furstenburg'  [1'01]
The Fairy Queen, Z629 [8:10] ²
Act IV Sonata 'while the sun rises'. Movement 1: [Allegro]  [1'06]
Act IV Sonata 'while the sun rises'. Movement 2: Canzona  [2'33]
Act IV Sonata 'while the sun rises'. Movement 3: [Adagio]  [1'41]
Act IV Sonata 'while the sun rises'. Movement 4: [Allegro] – [Adagio] – [Allegro] [2'47]
Dido and Aeneas, Z626 [3:09]
Overture in G minor  
Sir Anthony Love, or The Rambling Lady, Z588 [3:45]
Timon of Athens, Z632 [9:15] ¹
Overture. Grave – Canzona – Adagio – Canzona  [5:21]
Curtain Tune on a Ground  [3:49]
The Indian Queen, Z630 [5:08] ¹
Act III: Symphony



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