Collection: The Masque of Oberon

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COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Oberon
PERFORMER: Musicians of the Globe/Philip Pickett
CATALOGUE NO: 446 217-2

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The masque Oberon was one of the sumptuous spectacles of state created for James I’s court – a true multimedia event, involving dance, drama by Ben Jonson, lavish sets and music by Alfonso Ferrabosco II and Robert Johnson. The music survives incomplete, so all credit is due to Peter Holman and Philip Pickett for reconstructing it to produce this unique recording. Singers are chosen for their fresh, unaffected voices, and all join in splashy choruses supplied by Holman.

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Wind music and fanfares are played with impressive control, and there’s also a rare chance to hear the sprightly sound of ten lutes playing dance music. It’s an enterprising project, but the medium really cries out to be on laserdisc or video, especially since the music – though pleasant – is certainly not the most interesting of this period. Turning to well-trodden territory, the collection of songs and dances from Shakespeare’s plays has been issued to coincide with the opening of the Globe Theatre in London. The spirit of the original performances – when actors would have sung the songs within a drama – is recreated here with accounts of refreshing artlessness and simplicity; and baritone Roderick Williams and harpsichordist Gary Cooper deserve special mention for their fine musicianship. Kate Bolton