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Purcell Birthday odes Queen Mary 122
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Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Birthday Odes for Queen Mary
Arise, my Muse, Z320 (1690) [22:09]
Love's goddess sure was blind, Z331 (1692) [22:17]
Celebrate this festival, Z321 (1693) [32:44]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Emily Owen (soprano), Iestyn Davies (counter-tenor), Hugh Cutting (counter-tenor), Charles Daniels (tenor), David de Winter (tenor), Matthew Brook (bass-baritone), Edward Grint (bass-baritone)
The King's Consort/Robert King
rec. April 2021, Fairfield Halls, Croydon, UK
Texts included
VIVAT 122 [77:10]

When Robert King first recorded Purcell’s Odes it was three decades ago for Hyperion. Now he has begun to revisit the repertoire with new singers – except the ageless Charles Daniels, the only survivor – and with a new complement of instrumentalists. Those who owe allegiance to those earlier recordings should know that Arise, my Muse is on CDA66314, Love's goddess sure was blind on CD66494 and Celebrate this festival on CD66412. Canny programming ensures that these three odes, released individually in that earlier cycle, are here brought together.

There are salient differences between the two recordings as one would expect given the intervening years and new thinking. The opening Symphony of Arise, my Muse shows very clearly that King has revised his earlier approach – not dramatically but noticeably – in favour of a textually lighter and rhythmically snappier way with the music. Thus, whilst the tempi and thus timings remain, for the most part, very similar, the music sounds more aerial and lighter. He has also used a repeat in this latest performance of the Symphony. Another difference is that in that earlier cycle King played the harpsichord as he directed, whereas here this duty falls to Mark Williams, who also plays the chamber organ, and it allows King to focus wholly on direction. The lightness is a gain as is the clarity of sound in Fairfield Halls, Croydon; I’m thinking of the way we can so clearly hear Lynda Sayce’s theorbo, for instance. I find significant gains in the sound and colour of the accompanying orchestra over the rather more homogenised sound in the Hyperion readings. Daniels is excellent in this work as are the two counter-tenors Iestyn Davies and Hugh Cutting whilst Matthew Brook is stylistically apt and King never over presses the tempi.

These elements recur in the other works. If one misses James Bowman’s inimitable ‘tripping’ approach to Love's goddess sure was blind then compensation comes from Davies’ far less personalised, congruently integrated vocal approach – straighter, leaner, blending with his confreres. Sweetness of Nature is especially well done, as the winds and voices entwine over the chamber organ and if Davies excels in slow music he succeeds in faster music too, as he shows in May her blest example chase. The singers function well as a chorus, with no jockeying for vocal position.

I’ve not yet mentioned Carolyn Sampson but her duet with fellow soprano Emily Owen in Britain, now they cares beguile is something that marks out her contribution, especially, to the final ode, Celebrate this festival, which is much the largest-scaled of the three on this disc. In her tender singing of Let sullen Discord smile she illustrates, too, how, effective she can be at condensing expressive depth in a relatively short span of time. Whereas Crispian Steele-Perkins was one of the trumpeters in the earlier recordings, here it’s Neil Brough and Adrian Woodward and it’s Brough, I assume who plays the instrument’s answering phrases to such fine effect in ‘Tis sacred, bid the trumpet cease. Matthew Brook’s bravura qualities vie with the gleaming trumpet in While, for a righteous cause he arms. Though I haven’t cited tenor David de Winter or bass-baritone Edward Grint by name they are also admirable in a strongly cast, stylish complement of singers.

Vivat’s documentation is always elegant, and the booklet notes are in the expected three languages. The texts are printed, though, only in English.

I think that clear benefits to King’s second traversal of the odes are beginning to emerge as this cycle develops. The vocal group is more consonant, less prone to (however delightful) idiosyncrasy, and the instrumental writing is clarified and better recorded. The music emerges as lighter and more graceful in character though no less punchy when need be. These are celebratory Birthday Odes, after all.

Jonathan Woolf

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