A music critic once said that he had never heard a bad note from Purcell. By that he meant that in his view there were no weak spots in Purcell's oeuvre. I haven't heard every note Purcell wrote, but on the basis of what I have heard I tend to agree with this judgement. All his music is at least good, much is outstanding and a considerable part is nothing less than brilliant. There is little chance that you will ever get bored with listening to a disc of his music. The present one is no exception.
It brings a cross-section of Purcell's oeuvre, with excerpts from his music for the theatre, some sacred pieces, instrumental and keyboard works as well as songs. It is quite astonishing how much Purcell contributed to almost all genres of his time; this despite his tragically early death. The present disc impressively demonstrates his versatility.
The programme is embraced by excerpts from his music for the theatre. It opens with four instrumental pieces, including the rondeau from Abdelazar
which Benjamin Britten used for his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra
. It ends with the 'Masque of the Four Seasons' from The Fairy Queen
. A large part of Purcell's oeuvre comprises sacred music, especially verse and full anthems. Rejoice in the Lord alway
is one of his most famous compositions in this department. That also goes for the Funeral Sentences
which were originally part of the Funeral Music for Queen Mary.
Various pieces are based on ground basses, a popular form in Purcell's time. Three Parts upon a Ground
belongs to this genre, scored for three violins and bc, the chaconne from The Gordian Knot Unty'd
and the Ground in Gamut
for solo keyboard. Although Purcell acted for a number of years as organist he left only a handful of organ works. The Voluntary in d minor
is one of his most frequently performed pieces. Obviously one of Purcell's fantasias for viol consort could not be omitted as these are the last contributions to a genre which was once the dominant form of chamber music. To my surprise this disc even includes a piece I had not heard before: Of all the instruments that are
is a catch, belonging to a part of Purcell's oeuvre which is probably least known.
The performances are all taken from various recordings by the Taverner Consort, Choir and Players under the direction of Andrew Parrott. This results in a strong stylistic unity. Unfortunately the inlay doesn't indicate from which productions the various pieces are taken. The interpreters are mentioned, but the alto soloist in Rejoice in the Lord alway
is not given; sadly his vibrato damages the ensemble. The performances are generally quite good, which is not surprising as some of the artists involved belong to the core of the British early music scene. These include Emily Van Evera, Paul Agnew and John Mark Ainsley. Three Parts upon a Ground
is a little too flat, though; a more engaging performance would have been welcome.
This disc could have been a great introduction to the oeuvre of Purcell, for instance for those who are not acquainted with early music, or even classical music. It also could be useful for educational purposes if only this disc had come with a decent booklet including a short biography and some notes about the music, and - not to forget - the lyrics. The lack of such a booklet seriously reduces its value.
Johan van Veen