Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
The Purcell Edition 2 - Theatre Music
CD 1
The Indian Queen [62.41]
CD 2
The Tempest [57.37]
The Married Beau: Overture [2.42]
Abdelazer, or the Moor's Revenge: Rondeau [1.34]
CD 3
Timon of Athens [22.10]
Dioclesian Acts I-III [31.39]
CD 4
Dioclesian Acts III-V [60.09]
Music for a while [3.20]
Ah! How sweet it is to love [2.51]
If music be the food of love [3.51]
Monteverdi Choir, Monteverdi Orchestra, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner (conductor), Lynne Dawson, Rosemary Hardy, Gillian Fisher, Dinah Harris, Jennifer Smith, Dawn Upshaw (sopranos), Carol Hall (mezzo) Ashley Stafford (counter-tenor), Rogers Covey-Crump, Paul Elliott, Martyn Hill, John Elwes (tenors), Stephen Varcoe (baritone), David Thomas, Roderick Earle, Michael George (basses)
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, February 1979 (The Indian Queen, The Tempest), Rosslyn Chapel, London, December 1987 (Timon of Athens, Dioclesian), Air Studios, London, January 1995 (The Married beau, Abdelazer), American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, April 2000 (Music for a while, Ah! How sweet it is to love, If music be the food of love). DDD
WARNER CLASSICS & JAZZ AND ERATO CO-PRODUCTION 2564 69199-0 [4 CDs: 62.41 + 61.53 + 52.47 + 70.08]

The first CD on this four-disc set of Purcell’s music for theatre features The Indian Queen – of which John Eliot Gardiner produces a good sprightly performance – bright, purposeful and spirited – a promising start. The Tempest, however, on the next disc, is less impressive. Rather on the heavy side, the orchestral playing here is too measured, deliberate and dull – lacking in subtlety. The lack of fluidity in the performance is exemplified by the ponderous quality and laboured feel of movements such as Halcyon Days, now wars are ending, you shall find wheree’er you sail. In fact, we only really get some light and shade in an otherwise monochrome performance at the very final movement, No stars again shall hurt you from above, which is beautifully characterful. Mezzo-soprano Carol Hall’s Ariel is very pedestrian – not at all ethereal or sprightly, and it sounds as if she were sight-reading the part rather than performing and communicating it – mechanical and studied, emotionless and rather lacklustre, with no characterization. David Thomas and Roderick Earle are far more believable as the Devils – excellent performances from these two basses. The second disc ends with two fillers, the Overture from the comedy The Married Beau and the Rondeau from Abdelazer, or the Moor's Revenge (best known from Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra). It is rather disappointing that these two movements alone from these works are included here.

Disc 3 presents a lively performance of Timon of Athens, with all soloists on top form - although I found Gillian Fisher a little light-weight in her roles here. The first three Acts of Dioclesian complete disc 3 and fill most of disc 4. The opening I found rather on the slow side – the First Music too measured and plodding, although the Second Music and Third Music are brisker. The soloists are again on typically good form, although Stephen Varcoe occasionally comes across as a little reserved and distant. Rogers Covey-Crump is superbly expressive as a Follower of Cupid – although sometimes (as in Still I’m wishing, still desiring) his performance is a little on the fussy side, and the trio in Act II (Michael George, Stephen Varcoe and Paul Elliott) is outstanding – beautifully articulated. Lynne Dawson is also excellent – wonderfully flexible and bright, and whilst Gillian Fisher is more measured (sometimes a little too much so), these two sopranos together are exceptional – perfectly phrased and beautifully blended (as in the Act V Masque Ah! The Sweet delights of love). Some of the purely orchestral sections are also very good – such as the Act Five Passepied and later Dance. Tempi seem appropriate and sensible, and I especially liked the subtle rhythm changes in Make Room, make room for the great God of Wine. This final disc concludes with three familiar and much-loved songs as fillers - Music for a while, Ah! How sweet it is to love and If music be the food of love. Dawn Upshaw is the excellent soprano here, accompanied by sensitive Arthur Haas on harpsichord and Myron Lutzke on cello.

As a general rule, Gardiner does not achieve the same heights of tension, intensity and passion that others - such as Alfred Deller and Consentus Musicus - do, and he doesn’t seem to bring out the best in his soloists; even such top singers as Stephen Varcoe and Rogers Covey-Crump are slightly disappointing. The booklet notes also leave something to be desired – they are neither terribly full nor particularly clear. All in all, therefore, a rather mixed set – with some superb moments, but some others that are slightly below par, prevent me from whole-heartedly endorsing this set.

Em Marshall

All in all a rather mixed set – with some superb moments, but some others that are slightly below par.