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Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
Complete Odes and Welcome Songs
soloists The King’s Consort/Robert King
rec. 1986-1992
Separate CDs, each with notes and texts, in a slip-case.
HYPERION CDS44031-8 [8 CDs: 60:43 + 76:56 + 76:04 + 59:39 + 70:02 + 68:10 + 66:06 + 67:47 = 540:53]
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CD 1
Arise, my muse, Z320 (Queen Mary’s Birthday, 1690) [21:32]
Welcome to all the pleasures, Z339 (St Cecilia’s Day, 1683) [15:32]
Now does the glorious day appear, Z332 (Queen Mary’s Birthday, 1689) [23:39]
CD 2
Hail! bright Cecilia, Z328 (St Cecilia’s Day, 1692) [52:31]
Who can from joy refrain? Z342 (Duke of Gloucester’s Birthday, 1695) [24:45]
CD 3
Fly, bold rebellion, Z324 (Welcome Song for Charles II, 1683) [19:15]
Sound the trumpet, beat the drum (Welcome Song for James II, 1687) [23:28]
Celebrate this Festival, Z321 (Queen Mary’s Birthday, 1693) [32:49]
CD 4
Ye tuneful Muses, Z344 (Welcome Song for James II, 1686) [24:09]
Celestial music did the gods inspire, Z322 (Ode for Mr Maidwell’s School, 1689) [17:51]
From hardy climes and dangerous toils of war, Z325 (Wedding of Prince George of Denmark and Princess Anne, 1683) [17:19]
CD 5
Welcome, welcome, glorious morn, Z338 (Queen Mary’s Birthday, 1691) [27:07]
Great Parent, Hail to Thee! Z327 (Ode for the Centenary of Trinity College, Dublin, 1694) [24:19]
The summer’s absence unconcerned we bear, Z337 (Welcome Song for Charles II, 1682) [18:12]
CD 6
Love’s goddess sure was blind, Z331 (Queen Mary’s Birthday, 1692) [21:31]
Raise, raise the voice, Z334 (St Cecilia’s Day, c.1685) [12:22]
Laudate Ceciliam, Z329 (St Cecilia’s Day, 1683) [10:22]
From those serene and rapturous joys, Z326 (Welcome Song for Charles II, 1684) [23:16]
CD 7
Of old, when heroes thought it base (‘The Yorkshire Feast Song’), Z333 (1690) [36:09]
Swifter, Isis, swifter flow, Z336 (Welcome Song for Charles II, 1681) [14:56]
What, what shall be done in behalf of the man? Z341 (Welcome Song for the Duke of York, 1682) [14:38]
CD 8
Come ye sons of Art, away, Z323 (Queen Mary’s Birthday, 1694) [25:40]
Welcome, vicegerent of the mighty King, Z340 (Welcome Song for Charles II, 1680) [14:02]
Why, why are all the Muses mute? Z343 (Welcome Song for James II, 1685) [27:46] Gillian Fisher, Tessa Bonner, Evelyn Tubb, Susan Hamilton (sopranos); James Bowman, Michael Chance, Jonathan Kenny, Nigel Short (counter-tenors); Rogers Covey-Crump, Mark Padmore (high tenors); Charles Daniel (tenor, alto); John Mark Ainsley, Rufus Müller (tenors); Michael George, Charles Pott, Simon Keenlyside, Robert Evans (basses)
The King’s Consort/Robert King

 

Purcell’s Odes and Welcome Songs may be marginally less inspired in general than his Sacred Music, but they’re not far behind and they’re well worth hearing. Having recorded the Complete Sacred Music, now assembled in an 11-CD set (CDS44141-51 – see review), The King’s Consort and Hyperion turned their attention to this 8-CD complete set of these 24 works. Whereas the Sacred Music CDs are housed in individual cardboard envelopes inside a box, these 8 CDs remain in their original housings inside a slip case. Volume 3 (CDA66412) is available separately, though with limited stocks, as is Volume 6 (CDA66494); the other individual discs may be ordered from Hyperion’s archive service at £13.99 each.

Peter Graham Woolf recommended the complete set in 2001 as a peerless bargain – see review – but Purcell’s anniversary year seemed a good excuse, if one were needed, for taking another look. This may be hack music, produced to commission, but it isn’t the music of a hack composer any more than Bach’s church cantatas, which were also produced to order.

James Bowman figures largely in these Hyperion recordings, of both the sacred and the secular music, as also on a recently reissued CD on their inexpensive Helios label of Mr Henry Purcell’s Admirable Composures (CDH55303 – see review) and a full-price CD of counter-tenor duets (CDA66253, with Michael Chance). These were not, however, his first recorded forays into the music of Purcell, since he appeared on a fine 1975 recording of two of Queen Mary’s Birthday Odes, Come Ye Sons of Art and Love’s Goddess Sure, with the Early Music Consort of London directed by the much lamented David Munrow – still available on the very inexpensive Classics for Pleasure label, though short value (5 86050 2).

By mere coincidence, I presume, Munrow and King, on Volume 8, take exactly the same 3:36 for the opening Symphony of the 1694 Ode, Come ye sons of Art away, which seems to me near ideal. Thereafter King is mostly a little faster than Munrow; though I never thought his tempi too fast, the Munrow also sounds perfectly ‘right’ in its own context. EMI track Sound the trumpet and the ritornello and chorus Come ye sons of Art separately (tracks 3 and 4) whereas Hyperion join the two on track 3.

Munrow takes Strike the viol (tr.5) a little faster than King (tr.4) but here, too, there is really very little to choose between the performances, especially as both are sung by James Bowman. If I marginally prefer Munrow’s tempo, Bowman’s voice fifteen years on sounds more mature. Two excellent performances; the 1975 ADD recording still held its own well in the 1989 Eminence reissue against the excellent Hyperion and, I presume, still does in its CFP transfer.

The Munrow recording has the 1692 Birthday Ode Love’s Goddess sure as its coupling. Here the soloists are different but they also give a good account of themselves. After an opening Symphony where the tempi are very close to each other, King (Volume 6) again takes most of the sections of this ode slightly faster than Munrow. Otherwise, apart from the fact that the Munrow recording divides the final section, May she to Heaven (tr.8 on Hyperion, trs 17 and 18 on CFP), which is neither here nor there for most listeners, there is, again, almost nothing to choose between the two. Heard one after the other, I might marginally prefer the Hyperion. Considering its inexpensive price, you might well consider purchasing the Munrow as an adjunct to the King set.

There’s a more recent rival than Munrow to the King’s Consort recording of Hail! Bright Cecilia, Z328 (Hyperion Volume 2), from Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort and Players on a mid-price Archiv reissue, 471 7282, coupled with My beloved spake, Z28 and O sing unto the Lord a new song. Where Munrow was mostly slower, McCreesh’s tempi are generally faster than King’s. Some may prefer the faster tempi, but this is ceremonial music and King brings out that aspect extremely well, without sounding leaden-footed, starting with the opening Sinfonia. Of course, if you followed my advice and bought the Hyperion complete set of Purcell’s sacred music, you’ll prefer the Hyperion coupling of Who can from joy refrain? to McCreesh’s coupling. This ode for the birthday of the Duke of Gloucester is not one of Purcell’s greatest achievements, but it’s well done and it brings the CD to a generous playing time of almost 77 minutes. Both works are so well performed that it would be invidious to single out individual contributions.

An even more recent contender directed by Diego Fasolis (Arts Red Label 473752) has the advantage of being available singly and inexpensively, but his tempi really do seem hurried: 6:15 for the opening Sinfonia against McCreesh’s 8:42 and King’s 9:27. The stateliness is still (just) there but it all sounds a bit hurried after listening to King; perhaps it would have sounded better if I hadn’t been making comparisons. Other sections of the Fasolis recording, including the final chorus, sound much better – he’s just marginally faster than King and slightly slower than McCreesh here. If the coupling appeals – Jehova quam multi sunt, Beati omnes and the Funeral Music for Queen Mary – this version is worth considering. Again, however, you’ll find excellent performances of these works on the Hyperion Sacred Music set.

The Arts CD sells for around £7.50 in the UK, or it’s available to download from passionato.com in mp3 and flac versions. An even better bargain is offered by a 2-CD Virgin Veritas twofer coupling Hail! Bright Cecilia with Welcome to all the pleasures and the Funeral Music for Queen Mary for around a pound more: Emma Kirkby and the Taverner Consort under Andrew Parrott (5 61582 2). Parrott’s tempi are sometimes more measured than even King’s – a whole 9:52 for the opening Sinfonia – a little too slow, I thought, without any gain in stateliness. Very often they are in close agreement, as in the eleventh section, The fife and all the harmony of war, where there’s very little too choose. Sometimes Parrott is faster. I don’t want to sound too critical; this inexpensive set remains a highly viable alternative. Its bargain price is somewhat mitigated, however, by the shortness of the second disc, containing just Hail! Bright Cecilia.

Yet another competitor in the major ode Hail! Bright Cecilia comes from Philippe Herreweghe on Harmonia Mundi, coupled with Welcome to all the pleasures. After another very slow account of the opening Sinfonia – surely a little too slow – this, too, offers strong competition, slightly mitigated by a slowish, but never droopy, account of the thirteenth and final section, Hail! Bright Cecilia. Another disc with a generous playing time, at 72:44, but King’s excellent version of Herreweghe’s coupling, Welcome to all the pleasures (Volume 1 of the Hyperion series) just tilts the balance against it.

I’ve made only a few detailed comparisons with other versions, but, when all these are made, King emerges as the most consistently satisfying and this remains the only set to offer all the Odes and Welcome Songs. Go for the Sacred Music set first, but few listeners are likely to regret the expenditure on both; little is likely to outshine them in Purcell year. When you’ve obtained those two box sets and the Admirable Composures CD, the delights of Hyperion’s complete Secular Songs (CDS44161/3) still await, described by Jonathan Woolf as ‘an authoritative, comprehensive and intelligent set, performed by musicians of character and discernment, and backed by a company that knows the value of the enterprise’ – see review.

If you haven’t yet followed the advice which I gave in my February, 2009, Download Roundup to go for the new Chandos recording of Purcell’s Dido and Æneas (CHAN0757, Download of the Month), a recommendation reinforced by Michael Greenhalgh in his recent review (Recording of the Month), you should do so. That’s probably the most urgent Purcell recommendation of all.
 
Brian Wilson




 


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