In the original production of Blow's 'masque for the entertainment of the king', which took place around 1683, the illegitimate nine-year-old daughter of Charles II and his former mistress Moll Davis sang the roles of Cupid and Venus respectively. In René Jacobs's version countertenor Robin Blaze sounds a bit more than nine, but still manages to suggest the sweetly innocuous quality of the Roman god of love, while Rosemary Joshua is tender and sensuous as his mother and Gerald Finley contributes a finely judged account of Adonis.
Produced in fresh and well-defined sound, the performance offers music making alive in every pore, sensitive both to the moment and the larger picture. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment makes a delectable noise and Jacobs's rhythmic control is flexible.
Venus and Adonis was a court opera, similar in length and structure to Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, which experts now believe to have been created for the same setting, rather than that of Josias Priest's girls school in Chelsea where it was later revived. Though it lacks the absolute certainty of direction of Dido, Blow's score is loveable, with tangy harmonies, highly expressive vocal writing and a scene satirising the morals of the court that must have been a hoot for those in on the joke.
Performance to performance, there's not much to choose between this fine version and an equally good one by Philip Pickett and the New London Consort in which Catherine Bott sings Venus and Michel George her handsome lover. George Hall