This is a most pleasant snapshot of the kind of music that could be heard in London around the turn of the 18th century, from the time of the death of Purcell to the early years of Handel in the city. There may be nothing here to set your listening experience on fire, but, equally, there’s nothing to spoil it.
Much of the music is little-known – note the number of first recordings – indeed, some of the composers will be not much more for most listeners than names in text books. Only Purcell’s ‘Tell me some pitying angel’ (The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation) is at all well known: in some respects it was a mistake to include it here, since it fits more neatly into collections of Purcell’s music, such as the King’s Consort on Hyperion. (Volume 3, CDA66623, available from the Hyperion Archive Service or on the wonderful complete set of church music on CDS44141/51: Bargain of the Month – see review). It fills a space better reserved for more unfamiliar material; it is, nevertheless, excellently performed here, with Philippa Hyde’s lucid voice fitting it to a T.
If the name William Croft rings a bell at all, it’s likely to be for his Purcell-inspired setting of the Burial Service, the epitome of stately Anglican music. That and other church music is very well presented by St Paul’s Cathedral choir on Hyperion’s inexpensive Helios label (CDH55252 – see review: try his harpsichord music, too, on Soundboard SBCD991 – see review). Croft’s pastoral ‘symphony song’, one of the premiere recordings here, offers a real contrast.
Handel’s Venus and Adonis is also claimed as a first recording, though there already exists a recent version by the Zefiro Ensemble on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (8869763032) and the two most substantial arias were included on a recording of Handel’s English Cantatas on Avie (2 CDs, AV2153 – see review). What we are offered on the new CD is a reconstruction by Peter Holman, with the two recitatives re-composed. It’s convincing, but the two arias stand well enough on their own on Avie.
For me the major discovery was Nicola Haym’s Chandos Anthem – yes, other composers than Handel did set music for the Duke of Chandos at Cannons – a setting of parts of Psalm 51, different from the more famous Chandos anthems, but music which challenges Handel’s hegemony. It’s also almost unfailingly joyful, in a manner not entirely appropriate to one of the penitential psalms, but very easy on the ear.
I’ve already praised Philippa Hyde’s contribution to the Purcell work. Her performances in the other works are of equally high quality and she is most ably supported by the Parley of Instruments, who also work their customary magic in the instrumental interludes. The whole is woven together by master magician Peter Holman. The quality of Holman’s contribution I took for granted even before playing the recording, but Ms Hyde has been a major (re)-discovery. She sings Semira on the Hyperion recording of Arne’s Artaxerxes, the reissue of which I reviewed some time ago, but I hadn’t really taken on board the excellence of her singing till now. Actually, I note that I thought her diction less than exemplary in Arne – see review – a comment which certainly does not apply to the new recording. (Look out for a review of the new Linn Records version of Artaxerxes in my March 2011 Download Roundup).
My Arcam Solo refused to recognise the CD, but other less fussy – and less expensive – decks readily obliged. Otherwise the recording is excellent, though audiophiles will regret that there is no SACD and that the download from Chandos’ own site, theclassicalshop.net comes in mp3 and lossless only, without the 24-bit option which they have been offering recently – a pity, since the original was, of course, recorded in 24-bit sound.
The excellent notes complete an offering which will appeal strongly, albeit to a limited audience. Even if you aren’t an expert in the music of this period, if you like Purcell and Handel, I’d encourage you to try this programme of music by their contemporaries. To end where I began, it may not set your listening experience afire, but you’re almost bound to enjoy it. If you’re not sure, like other Chandos recordings, it can be sampled via the invaluable Naxos Music Library.
Giovanni Battista DRAGHI (c.1640–1708)
‘Where art thou, God of Dreams?’* from Romulus and Hersilia (1682) for soprano, two violins, bass viol, and harpsichord [2:58]
** Trio Sonata in g minor for two violins, bass viol, and organ [8:24]
Henry PURCELL (1659–1695)
Tell me, some pitying angel, Z196 (1693)* [6:39]
Raphael COURTEVILLE (fl. c. 1675–c. 1735)
** Creep softly, purling streams (1687)* for soprano, two violins, bass viol, and harpsichord [3:58]
Nicola MATTEIS (fl. c. 1670–c. 1713)
Suite in d minor (1687) [7:44]
William CROFT (1678–1727)
** For rural and sincerer joys* Symphony song for soprano, two violins, bass viol, and harpsichord [7:45]
John WELDON (1676–1736)
** Suite in d minor for two violins, bass viol, and organ [10:04]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
** Venus and Adonis, Cantata for soprano, violin, cello, and harpsichord – reconstructed by Peter Holman, HWV85 (c. 1711)*† [10:11]
Johann Christoph PEPUSCH (1667–1752)
** Sonata ‘Smallcoal’ in D for two violins, cello, and harpsichord [3:52]
Nicola Francesco HAYM (1678–1729)
Have mercy upon me, O God (1716)* Chandos anthem for soprano, two violins, cello, and organ [14:07]