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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Love Songs
The History of Timon of Athens, The Man-Hater (Z 632):
Curtain tune on a ground [4:00]
The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian (Z 627):
Dance [1:05]
If music be the food of love (Z 379) [3:38]
King Arthur (Z 628):
For love ev'ry creature [3:45]
Hornpipe [0:51]
I love and I must (Z 382) [2:46]
Pausanias, the Betrayer of his Country (Z 585):
Sweeter than roses [3:08]
The History of Timon of Athens, The Man-Hater (Z 632):
Overture [3:20]
Hark! how the songsters [1:50]
Love in their little veins inspires [1:34]
But ah! [1:29]
Come all to me [1:29]
The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian (Z 627):
First music [2:16]
The Faery Queen (Z 629):
Entrance of night [3:59]
One charming night [2:51]
Hush, no more [1:54]
The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian (Z 627):
Chaconne [3:21]
The Faery Queen (Z 629):
Ye gentle spirits of the air [4:36]
The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian (Z 627):
Prelude [1:37]
Since from my dear [2:37]
The Faery Queen (Z 629):
O let me weep [6:18]
If love's a sweet passion [2:58]
The History of Timon of Athens, The Man-Hater (Z 632):
The cares of lovers [1:50]
The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian (Z 627):
Let us dance [1:39]
King Arthur (Z 628):
Borée [1:13]
The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian (Z 627):
Butterfly dance [2:11]
The Mock Marriage (Z 605):
Man is for the woman made [1:29]
The Faery Queen (Z 629):
Hark! the echoing air [2:52]
Chaconne [3:33]
Dorothee Mields (soprano)
Lautten Compagney Berlin/Wolfgang Katschner
rec. 24-27 June 2009, Pfingstkirche, Friedrichshain, Germany. DDD
Texts included
CARUS 83.435 [76:12]

Experience Classicsonline

Henry Purcell had great theatrical flair. It is not just his only opera Dido and Aeneas which bears witness to that. It can be discerned in his compositions in other genres as well; certainly in his sacred and instrumental music. Then there are his contributions to the typically English genre of the semi-opera, a play with separate episodes or masques with music. This discs brings extracts from three semi-operas: The Faery Queen, King Arthur and The Prophetess, or The History of Dioclesian. In addition we hear songs and dances which Purcell wrote for plays with musical interludes, like The History of Timon of Athens, The Man Hater. Some of Purcell's songs have become quite famous, but not every music-lover realises that several of them were written for the theatre. Two examples are included in this programme: Sweeter than roses and Man is for the woman made.

A recording with theatrical music by Purcell is nothing special: this part of his oeuvre is pretty well represented on disc, although really complete recordings are rare, because of the amount of spoken texts. Most recordings are from the English-speaking world which is understandable as the texts and character of this repertoire aren’t that easy to grasp for non-English speakers, let alone the humour. It has to be said, though, that outside Britain Purcell's music isn't that well-known anyway. The commemoration of his birth in 2009 made little difference, I'm afraid. From that perspective this recording by the Lautten Compagney Berlin should be welcome, even though I can't see any logic in the way the programme has been put together.

Wolfgang Katschner's choice of Dorothee Mields to sing the vocal items is excellent. It is hard to find a better interpreter for Purcell's vocal music outside the English-speaking world. At the beginning of her career she was compared to the young Emma Kirkby. Since then her voice has grown and become stronger and warmer. But she still has some of the skills which have made Ms Kirkby famous: immaculate diction and pronunciation, and a fine taste for ornamentation. These qualities are certainly needed in Purcell's music. Ms Mields doesn't disappoint in this respect. 'Entrance of the night' and 'Hush no more' from The Faery Queen are two examples of how great this disc could have been. Unfortunately Dorothee Mields has landed in the wrong show. Wolfgang Katschner's interpretation is rather unusual, to put it in a friendly way. His addition of percussion to many items is only one of the idiosyncrasies of these performances.

The programme even starts with percussion: in the 'Curtain tune on a ground' from Timon of Athens a Jew's harp enters, and then the strings join in. It is just one of the odd things; another being that the string bass is played pizzicato. Later we hear the overture from this play, and here a complete drum-roll. I don't know why Katschner thought percussion was needed. He probably assumed it would emphasize the dance character of many of Purcell's instrumental music and songs, but the effect is exactly the opposite. What actually happens is that the rhythms are given an almost military rigidity and all flexibility goes out of the window. This is only enhanced by the style of playing of the Lautten Compagney, with heavy accents on the strong beats and a very sharp articulation. This is all very appropriate in German music but not in English repertoire. The tempi are sometimes off the mark as well: the hornpipe from King Arthur is so fast that it is impossible to feel the dance rhythm. It is certainly impossible to dance at such a high speed.

There are so many pieces on this disc which seriously suffer from this erratic approach. In the second stanza of the song If music be the food of love the rhythm is twisted in a rigid drone through the addition of percussion. In Sweeter than roses which is scored for voice and basso continuo Katschner has added strings. This takes away the rhythmic freedom this song requires, and obstructs a truly rhetorical and speech-like performance. The rigid and harsh style of playing destroys the effect of If love's sweet passion and Since from my dear, as beautifully as they are sung by Dorothee Mields. The closing lines of the latter, "that makes me wish to die", is devoid of the sensitivity one would expect.

In the light of this, who would be surprised about the use of a double-bass in One charming night (The Faery Queen) or an organ in The cares of lovers (Timon of Athens)? The addition of mechanically-produced bird's noises in Hark! how the songsters is pure kitsch.

The relatively few items where Purcell's scoring has been left untouched come off best, in particular when Mields has the chance to show her skills undisturbed by the orchestra. But these are not enough to save this disc. Here Purcell's strokes of genius have been twisted by bad taste.

Johan van Veen






























































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