Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Dido and Aeneas - Opera in three Acts [55:14]
The Masque of Cupid and Bacchus (from Timon of Athens) [19:16]
Johann Ernst GALLIARD (1687-1749)
Pan and Syrinx - Opera in one Act [57:53]
full singing casts listed at end of review;
Musica ad Rhenum/Jed Wentz
rec. Church of Maria Minor, Utrecht, Netherlands, 13-14 September 2004
texts will be available online
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94178 [55:14 + 77:09]

Dido and Aeneas is usually recorded on a single disc, and indeed Brilliant Classics have previously made this performance available in that way. This time however they have added a second disc containing another two short operas based on classical themes. Purcell’s Masque of Cupid and Bacchus was written to be included in a performance of Timon of Athens. It concerns the rivalry between love and drinking – little to do with Shakespeare’s original play, perhaps, but entertaining in itself. Pan and Syrinx to a libretto by Lewis Theobald concerns the unsuccessful wooing of Syrinx by the woodland god Pan. It was first performed in 1718, the same year as Handel’s Acis and Galatea which in many ways it resembles. Galliard was born in Germany, like Handel, and both composers came to England. However Galliard’s success in this field was more limited than that of Handel and he became better known as an oboist. I have heard little of his music before so that this opera came as a pleasant surprise. Not that it even begins to match the variety and imagination of Acis and Galatea, but it does have a charm of its own. Like Handel’s masterpiece it makes imaginative use of recorders, but lacks the sheer memorable fibre of that work. Its chief merits are the flow of easy melodies, the brevity of most of the numbers, and a comic interlude for a Sylvan and a Nymph (played by a man). It would be good to see a staged performance but what we have here is sufficient to show its merits even if the English of some of the singers makes the text hard to follow. I understand that the libretto will be available on the Brilliant Classics website in due course which would make this of less importance.

I would expect, however, that most potential purchasers would be lured by Purcell’s great masterpiece and would treat the companion disc as essentially a bonus, especially as the set it available at super-budget price. Dido and Aeneas gets off to a very promising start, with Music ad Rhenum - one instrument to a part (unlike the Galliard) - giving a wonderfully tangy and vigorous performance of the Overture. Indeed throughout the work it is the orchestra’s contribution that is most noteworthy, with real bounce and feeling for the subtlety of the rhythms and for Purcell’s harmonic language. The soloists are more variable, with an excellent Dido and Belinda and a somewhat ineffectual Aeneas - although that may be deliberate as the character is himself ineffectual. Although I understand that most are not native English speakers this is not obvious in this work; indeed there is a clear attempt to rethink some of the “traditional” emphases to make Tate’s unfairly maligned libretto work better. The chorus are less good in this respect, and suffer from apparently being recorded in a different acoustic; this is not a serious problem. Like several earlier recordings of the work it includes some of the sections of text included in the 1689 publication where Purcell’s music either does not survive or was never written. Other works by Purcell have been used to fill most of the gaps - apart from the Prologue - but unfortunately these sources are not listed in the notes. It is interesting to hear how the opera might have been presented originally, and this too adds to the sense of freshness which is felt throughout.

The brief Masque from Timon of Athens is full of charming and entertaining music that is seldom heard in concerts. It completes an interesting and thought-provoking pair of discs. Perhaps this performance of Dido and Aeneas is unlikely to be a first choice for a library, but it has just the kind of merits and raises the kind of questions that make it ideal as a supplement to one of the more obvious first choices.

John Sheppard



Dido and Aeneas
Dido – Nicola Wemyss (mezzo)
Aeneas – Matthew Baker (baritone)
Belinda – Francine van der Heijden (soprano)
Second Woman – Penni Clarke (soprano)
Sorceress – Helene Rasker (alto)
Witches – Maaike Poorthuis (mezzo) and Yong-Hee Kim (mezzo)
Spirit – Rowena Simpson (soprano)
Sailor - Richard Zook (tenor)

Pan and Syrinx
First Witch – Maaike Poorthuis (mezzo)
Syrinx – Johannette Zomer (soprano)
Pan – Marc Pantus (baritone)
Diana – Nicola Wemyss (mezzo)
Sylvan – Mitchell Sandler (bass)
Nymph – Richard Zook (tenor)

Cupid and Bacchus
Nymphs – Pauline Graham (soprano) and Nicola Wemyss (mezzo)
Follower of Cupid – René Steur (bass)
Cupid – Penni Clarke (soprano)
Bacchus – Marc Pantus (baritone)
Followers of Bacchus – Mitchell Sandler (bass), Hugo Naessens (counter-tenor), Richard Zook (tenor) and Joost van der Linden (tenor)

This Dido has just the kind of merits and raises the kind of questions that make it ideal as a supplement to one of the more obvious first choices.