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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Funeral Sentences
Rejoice in the Lord Always, Z. 49 [8:04]
Remember Not, Lord, Our Offences, Z. 50 [3:05]
Blow up the Trumpet in Sion, Z. 10 [6:33]
Hear My Prayer, O Lord, Z. 15 [2:22]
My Heart Is Inditing, Z. 30 [14:27]
Funeral Sentences for the Death of Queen Mary II: March, Z. 860 / "Man that is born of a woman", Z. 27 / Canzona, Z. 860 / "In the midst of life", Z. 17 / Canzona, Z. 860/ "Thou knowest, Lord", Z. 58C / March, Z. 860
O Lord God of Hosts, Z. 37
Te Deum in D major, Z. 232
Tessa Bonner, Patrizia Kwella (sopranos); Kai Wessel (alto); Paul Agnew, William Kendall (tenors); Peter Kooy (bass)
Collegium Vocale Gent/Philippe Herreweghe
rec. 1993; no location provided.
English notes and texts with French and German translations
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC901462 [67:43]

It comes as a surprise to realise that this compilation of some of Purcell’s greatest vocal music is twenty-five years old yet remains highly competitive in a full field. It consists of four full anthems, three verse anthems including the Te Deum, and the instrumental music and the three full service anthems of Queen Mary’s funeral, performed by six soloists, a choir of twenty and an orchestra of twenty-two. The English diction and pronunciation are impeccable, not just from the one Dutch, one German and four British soloists but also the Flemish choir. One of the two distinguished soprano soloists is Tessa Bonner, who succumbed to cancer on the last day of 2008, aged only 57.

My Heart is Inditing was the top recommendation in a recent BBC Radio 3 Record Review and the whole programme is performed to the highest standard. Heavily dotted rhythms impart plenty of spring to proceedings and there is plenty of underlying heft from the double bass and organ. Blend and intonation are excellent and the balance between voices and instruments is ideal. There is some slight, “churchy” ambience about the acoustic but the recording location is not provided.

A disappointment for me on this disc is their restrained account of the most beautiful piece here, Hear My Prayer, O Lord, which, while beautifully sung, lacks the soaring intensity and dynamic variety of the recording by Robert King with the combined choirs of New College and the King’s Consort. The same applies to Remember Not, Lord, Our Offences; I prefer the more overtly emotional delivery of the King’s Consort but that is just my vulgar, personal taste; both are exquisitely sung and some will refer smaller-scaled restraint.

Comparison of the central work with John Eliot Gardiner’s 1976 recording is interesting; one normally expects Gardiner to hurry things along, sometimes in unseemly fashion, even over forty years ago but his tempi are similar. I like his repeats and the addition of timpani to the Marches. He has the full Monteverdi Choir sing the services anthems, with the result that they sound much grander and more…well, anthem-like than the much sparer, small soloist choir used here, whose versions have more of the quality of motets; they sound like different pieces. I must say that, again, my preference is for the larger-scale arrangements, old-fashioned though that be.

Going back even further in recording history, I returned to the pioneering Te Deum made by the Deller Consort and issued on LP in 1968 by harmonia mundi, the very same Arles-based label as this new disc. Again, orchestration is more elaborate with added brass but the differences are not as great as you might think and, at the risk becoming tediously repetitive and predictable, I venture to say that the vintage version is more involving and characterful. On the same record we find the Funeral Sentences shorn of the instrumental interludes and accompanied solely by organ, sung by soloists and choir with more vibrato than is conventional today but also with great expression and feeling.

There is no doubt that this recording under review is the one for those who want to hear these works recorded in a more “period aware” fashion and they are beautifully performed as such – but that does not mean that other, less purist accounts should be jettisoned.

Ralph Moore



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