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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Theatre Music 2
The Married Beau, Z603 (?1694) [20:25]
The Spanish Friar, Z610 (?1695) [3:06]
Sir Anthony Love, Z588 (?1690) [14:07]
Aureng-Zebe, Z573 (?1693) [1:49]
The Old Bachelor, Z607 (1693) [23:13]
Johane Ansell (soprano), Jason Nedecky (baritone)
Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon (violin)
rec. St Anne’s Anglican Church, Toronto, 18-20 November 2013, DDD
booklet includes texts as sung in English
NAXOS 8.573280 [63:01]

It’s 8 years since Kevin Mallon’s ‘Purcell Theatre Music 1’ (Naxos 8.570149) but, as in my review of that, I shall compare the recordings of the complete incidental music made by The Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood between 1974 and 1983 (Decca 475 529-2). Hogwood, using a larger body of strings, brings a stylish, rather antique perspective to the instrumental items. Mallon, usually doubling the first violin line with recorder or, less frequently, oboe, adding tambourine at repeats and sometimes featuring a side drum, brings a more raucous sense of living theatre. This would probably have been the practice in Purcell’s semi-operas like King Arthur, where the extra instruments were called for anyway, but less likely for the less substantial requirements of incidental music for a dominating play. Mallon’s additions, nevertheless, add variety and colour.

Then there are the songs. For Dryden’s Aureng-Zebe Purcell contributed ‘I see she flies me ev’rywhere’. In its first section, running semiquavers depict flight; in the second, sustained notes on ‘long’ wishfully think of an eternal union. On this CD Johane Ansell negotiates the rapid melismas of the first section with fretful, restless clarity; but I prefer Hogwood’s Judith Nelson’s lighter articulation which contains a sense of mischief and her more expansive feel to the second section.

For Congreve’s The Old Bachelor Purcell composed 2 songs. In ‘Thus to a ripe, consenting maid’ an old courtesan advises a novice to keep her man keen by only gradually delivering favours. This very knowing song is well delivered by Ansell, bringing an element of drag to the opening section giving it slyness; then the second part accelerates in excited memory of past chasing. The duet, 'As Amoret and Thyrsis lay', in which Ansell is joined by baritone Jason Nedecky, works less well because there's too little savouring of the experience which Purcell so lusciously sets before us as the voices echo each other in 'melting', then 'mingling kisses', wrapping around each other in turn before the interjections of 'Let me' and 'O' become distinctly more racy as the imitation quickens. Here Ansell is from the outset too fast and pearly, so Nedecky can only follow dutifully. For Hogwood Nelson and Christopher Keyte engage with the text more, so there's a sense of growing physical union.

There are 9 instrumental items for The Old Bachelor. The Overture is typically French: an assertive opening section, a quicker, more playful second section and a majestic codetta. The First Hornpipe is quietly vivacious, then merrier when Mallon adds a tambourine for the second play-through. The Slow Air I find a bit over languorous because of the density of tone of the combined recorder and violin. In the second play-through there's a more intimate recorder solo to start, with violins added for the repeat. Hogwood uses solo instruments throughout this piece and finds more tenderness and pathos in its second section. Mallon’s Second Hornpipe is crisp and satisfying in its sheer confidence. A lively Rondeau is tempered by quieter episodes which are reflections of the rondeau theme at lower pitch. A sunny, assured Minuet is followed by a Bourée which is more dashing in both senses, confirmed by added tambourine for its second play-through. The March gradually gathers a military feel with the entry of a side drum for the repeat, but the skipping close of the second strain melody is more joyous and less formal, contentment also found in the Jig with tambourine for its repeats.

To The Spanish Friar by Dryden, Purcell contributed the song 'Whilst I with grief did on you look.' It’s addressed to one whose brain has been turned by love and sung by one who protests that she has been equally affected. This is intense stuff, yet I feel Ansell rather over declaims and dramatizes it. In so doing the progression to a faster tempo and the usual advice, that the scorned lover return the scorn, becomes fractious and shrewish rather than putting things in perspective. A lighter touch, as supplied by Nelson for Hogwood, responds better to the song's structure. 

Sir Anthony Love, a play by Southerne, has only one wholly instrumental piece, its Overture, but 3 songs. The Overture has a diverting second section and sensitive codetta recalling the more sedate opening section. The first song, 'Pursuing Beauty', unusually has a purely instrumental introduction which creates a regal aura for the second section's portrayal of men chasing for love "still richer in variety". The third section provides the lady's perspective and the familiar message that being too keen is a disaster, so the fourth section advises taking things slowly. Ansell sings the song well, relishing the richness of the melisma on “variety” in the second section and excitement of the unfamiliar men welcomed in the melisma on “rovers” in the third section. It is a pity that in the fourth section she rather squawks the top G on “made” where Nelson is celebratory. Mallon repeats the first, instrumental, section after section 3 but this disrupts the progression of song. The second song is a dialogue, 'No more, sir, no more', in which the lady berates the man who responds in an equally forthright, yet sufficiently conciliatory, manner to allow the two to come together in duet in the repeat of the final stanza. Ansell and Nedecky give a robust performance. The third song, 'In vain Clemene, you bestow' also sports an instrumental extra: an oboe repeating its closing couplet. Ansell sings jauntily, enjoying the unusual perspective of advising against restraint.  

'See where repenting Celia lyes' is a song provided for Crowne's The Married Beau. Even with the old spelling, 'lyes' has the double meaning of 'reclines' and 'is untruthful' in her repentance. Purcell's setting exploits this in the extravagance of its melismas, for example on “blushing” and “melting”. But in the second stanza melismas depict the “flow” of tears and their “wond'rous” ability to grant grace of a different, transformative nature. In Ansell's performance there's an objective but appreciating look with an element of mockery. Her relentless forward sweep emphasises the ostentation of the melismas yet the piece’s change of mood rather flashes by. Nelson's more intimate melismas for Hogwood show more contrast and conviction through more nuance in their phrasing. 

There are 9 instrumental items for The Married Beau. Purcell’s Overture, a French one without codetta, comes fluent and elegant from Mallon in its opening section. The second section is taken at a feisty pace yet Mallon still preserves a fundamental lightness of touch. But for me, in the Slow Air the recorder doubling over-weights the sonority. There again it enhances the raciness and nautical quality in the First Hornpipe and the Air similarly comes up very spruce and full of chutzpah. The Second Hornpipe begins in reserved manner, to sparkle when the tambourine enters for the second play-through. The Jig seems also at first relatively docile, but its rhythmic vitality is never in doubt. In the Trumpet Air the oboe doubling provides a suave evocation of the trumpet but in the March the dominance of the side drum masks the sheer élan of the somersaults of the melody’s sequences until it reaches its triumphant apex. The Hornpipe on a Ground seems quite leisurely yet is propelled by its increasingly skipping rhythms in the violins’ counter tune which make it grow more elated.

Michael Greenhalgh

 

 




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