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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II - Volume III
Rejoice in the Lord alway Z.49 (c.1682-85) [7:50]
Chaconne ‘Two in one upon a ground’ Z.627 (1690) [2:46]
Close thine eyes and sleep secure Z.184 (1688) [3:51]
Blow, Boreas, blow (Sir Barnabas Whigg or No Wit Like a Woman’s) Z.589 (1681) [4:07]
O all ye people, clap your hands Z.138 (c.1680) [2:57]
Catch: Come, my hearts, play your parts Z.246 (1685) [1:13]
Welcome Song: What shall be done in behalf of the man? Z.341 (1682) [15:17]
Overture in D minor Z.771 [3:23]
Thy genius, lo! (The Massacre of Paris) Z.604 (1693) [3:33]
O praise the Lord, all ye heathen Z.43 (before 1681) [3:22]
Retir’d from any mortal’s sight (The History of King Richard the Second or The Sicilian Usurpur) Z.581 (1681) [3:28]
Welcome Song: From those serene and rapturous joys Z.326 (1684) [22:18]
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
Texts included
rec. 2018, Church of St Augustine, Kilburn, London
CORO COR16182 [74:05]

Harry Christophers and the Sixteen have embarked on a series of recordings of Purcell’s Welcome Songs, both for James II and as here, for Charles II. This is the third volume for Charles and as before there are eight singers involved with the ensemble in which Alastair Ross is the harpsichordist and David Miller plays theorbo. The decision was made to give variety to the programme by including instrumental music as well as other vocal pieces and this has been a constant programmatic conceit. Maybe this was done to distinguish this series from the long-established one directed by Robert King on Hyperion, which has for a number of years been a go-to choice for the Welcome Songs and which focuses its volumes specifically on them (specifically in the context of the two songs in this Coro release, Volume 6 on CDA66494 and Volume 7 on CDA66587).

The variety therefore disperses such focus, admitting single songs from theatrical works that are more often located in volumes devoted to Purcell’s theatre music – you’ll recall those white sleeved Hogwood/The Academy of Ancient Music discs on L’Oiseau Lyre, for instance. But the two welcome songs here reflect the sense of vitality and subtlety Christophers and eight-strong chorus, and his ensemble, bring to the music. What shall be done in behalf of the man? and From those serene and rapturous joys are both reflective of the sense of rhythmic vitality and orchestral colour that Christophers is at pains to ensure can be savoured in the music. In the former work King is the daintier director but consequentially less biting in the ritornellos, and generally slower. King is lovingly slow in the tenor song All the grandeur he possesses but Christophers, accompanying the fine Jeremy Budd, forwards the winds, something King doesn’t do. King is a discreet and adept director but Christophers is the more malleable and theatrical performer.

It helps perhaps that the recording here is more defined, something that is clear in From those serene and rapturous joys and the voices and instruments are more forwardly balanced. In this welcome song’s greatest movement, Welcome, more welcome does he come, one finds King is graver than Christophers, his accompaniment darker, the chamber organ adding a sombre solemnity to the song. Christophers is lighter, his accompanying harpsichord lighter and more mobile. This is a difference of aesthetic that is most explicit in this song but evident throughout. King has some stellar voices from the time – James Bowman, Michael George, Mark Padmore, and Gillian Fisher among them - whilst Christophers’s singers from The Sixteen are less personalised, more consonant, more of an ensemble, if you like.

It’s enjoyable to hear less well-known theatre songs, the much better-known Chaconne ‘Two in one upon a ground’, the ‘Bell Anthem’ Rejoice in the Lord always, a brief catch and so on. It contextualises Purcell’s monarchical songs enjoyably and ensures a ready-changing programme of brief pleasures. Clarity of diction is a given as is ensemble precision. Above all there’s a sure sense of communicative esprit and an avoidance of dogmatism and pedantry. Performances are vital and alive, crisp and forward-moving.

There are full notes and texts.

If you want the Welcome Songs it leaves you, unfortunately, in a dilemma. Hyperion gives you volumes-worth of them, but Coro is mixing and matching, as noted. All I can say is that I rather preferred Christophers’s Welcome Songs – performances and recording quality - to those of King; they do sound genuinely welcoming, whatever Purcell may or may not have been thinking.

Jonathan Woolf

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