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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Music For A While - Improvisations on Henry Purcell
see track listing below review
Philippe Jaroussky (counter-tenor)
Raquel Andueza (soprano)
Vincenzo Capezzuto (alto)
Dominique Visse (counter-tenor)
Gianluigi Trovesi (clarinet)
Wolfgang Muthspiel (acoustic guitar, electric guitar)
L'Arpeggiata/Christina Pluhar
rec. Institut Culturel Roumain de Paris, Palais de Béhague, Paris, June 2013.
ERATO 2564 633750 [76:21]

Post-modern Purcell: O let me weep, forever weep. An absurdly incongruous 'bonus' song from folk-pop growler Leonard Cohen should at least serve as a warning to those with any musical taste to leave their money where it is. Male alto Vincenzo Capezzuto performing Cohen - 'singing' would be the wrong word here - is even more painful to listen to than Cohen himself, the trite lyric subjected to a double whammy of Capezzuto's cringe-inducing inflections and his musical-theatre-grade voice.
 
Still, it serves well as the coup de grâce for a disc that is even worse in realisation than it would have seemed at the planning stage to St Cecilia or any admirer of Purcell. In a short essay in the booklet entitled 'Purcell in the Twentieth & Twenty-First Centuries', Christina Pluhar attempts to justify her project. "Today's pop, rock and jazz musicians and film-makers have found constant inspiration in [Purcell's] musical inventions," she writes. There are, supposedly, "echoes of Purcell's harmonic language" in pop songs like 'Pinball Wizard' and 'I Can See for Miles' by the rock band 'The Who', who felt the composer's "strong influence" in the Sixties and Seventies. Further examples of such divine inspiration are given, ending with Britten's Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra, which featured in Wes Craven's recent film, 'Moonrise Kingdom'. Seriously.
 
It other words, recordings like this are an inevitable consequence of the public sphere's obsession with the imagination-free rhythms and clichéd figurations of pop music and with novelty for its own sake. Pluhar has moved on from Jacques Loussier, who merely 'improvised' all the air out of Bach; to the tinkling and plunking of cool jazz she adds African and Hispanic 'world' music banalities and a sprinkle of Latino pop fluff.
 
That is not to say that this CD (also available with a DVD for little extra cash) is not without redeeming features: the instrumentalists are first-rate and the recording itself is immaculate. Arty black-and-white photos abound - 26, to be precise - in the sizeable trilingual booklet, with song texts included. There is also a well-written, interesting essay on Purcell.
 
That essay is out of place, however, because this is not a disc about Purcell, but about the performers and arrangements. Raquel Andueza is the best of the three main singers, but her light, breathy voice cannot hide her Spanish accent. Why indeed use Spanish, French and Italian singers for this most English of composers? The booklet gives credit to a language coach, but there are a lot of rough edges still. Capezzuto sings repeatedly of a "wonn-drass"' machine, whilst Dominique Visse, in his unfunny, unmelodious cameo appearance for 'Man is for the Woman Made', refers to "wore, bode or Harry Dan". Even Andueza disappoints: her rendition of 'When I am Laid in Earth' is relentlessly horrid, like something from a tired late-night club singer: a Dido to remember for all the wrong reasons. Still, play that again rather than listen to Capezzuto squeaking through an anything but 'Wondrous Machine'.
 
Yet, besides Erato, it is Pluhar who must shoulder much of the responsibility, as all the arrangements are hers. The electric guitar, drawing in the rock-loving trendies, recalls the musical indiscretion of Piazzolla, whose work was always better arranged without an instrument that has no place in acoustic music. In similar fashion the clarinet and melodica add to the black-walls-and-cigarette-smoke atmosphere.
 
Only a small clutch of songs come out musically more or less intact, but even these are spoilt by the not-so-dulcet tones of Philippe Jaroussky - letting his "inner jazzman shine", as the blurb puts it - and of Capezzuto, both of whom sound, in In Vain the Am'rous Flute, as if they are auditioning for a 17th-century Lloyd Webber musical. Capezzuto in particular sounds out of his depth on this recording, his voice frequently strained and emotionally affected.
 
For all the negative points there is little doubt this disc will sell well. It has already received predictable critical approbation - here, for example. Yet this says more about contemporary audiences than any musical qualities on offer. It is comforting that praise has not been universal, and that these tracks are generally too 'crossed over' to get onto the influential playlists of Classic FM. '"Pluhar recognises no borders, no divisions between eras. For her, it is all music" - thus Warner enthusiastically cites a German newspaper in its promotional material. The trouble is, that is just not true.
 
Byzantion
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk

Previous review: Michael Cookson
Track listing
Twas within a Furlong (arr. Christina Pluhar) [2:54]
Music for a While (arr. Christina Pluhar) [5:54]
Strike the Viol (arr. Christina Pluhar) [3:57]
Now that the Sun hath Veiled his Light (an Evening Hymn on a Ground) (arr. Christina Pluhar) [6:06]
In Vain the Am'rous Flute [4:33]
A Prince of Glorious Race Descended (arr. Christina Pluhar) [4:40]
Oh Solitude, my Sweetest Choice [5:23]
When I am Laid in Earth (arr. Christina Pluhar) [5:03]
Wondrous Machine (arr. Christina Pluhar) [3:41]
Here the Deities Approve (arr. Christina Pluhar) [4:48]
Ah! Belinda (arr. Christina Pluhar) [4:10]
Hark! how the Songsters of the Grove (arr. Christina Pluhar) [2:49]
One Charming Night (arr. Christina Pluhar) [4:40]
Man is for Woman Made [1:18]
O Let Me Weep (The Plaint) [7:19]
Curtain Tune on a Ground [2:56]
Leonard COHEN (b.1934)
Hallelujah [6:04]


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