Purcell: Fantazias

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Purcell
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Fantazias; In Nomines in 6 and 7 parts
PERFORMER: Fretwork
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907502

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Purcell’s 13 Fantazias and two In Nomines for viol consorts of varying strengths, without continuo, date from around 1680 and are one of the high water marks, if not the high water mark, of Purcell’s instrumental music. Based on Renaissance and early Baroque models, these intimate and subtly expressed compositions were once described as ‘passionate revelations of the composer’s most secret thoughts’ and demonstrate Purcell’s inspired gift for polyphony.

This is Fretwork’s second recording which enters into competition with London Baroque (BIS), Phantasm (Simax) and, more recently the Ricercar Consort (Mirare). Nowadays, Fretwork takes a brisker view of the music though not perhaps a crisper one where matters of articulation are concerned.

The playing in its new recording, with partly different personnel from the earlier one (Virgin), strikes my ears as being more fluent and expressively spontaneous. These are certainly virtues but they come at the expense of an affective restraint present in the earlier version. Even so, many of the pieces come across wonderfully well, like the four-part Fantazia in B flat.

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 Choosing a favourite recording is daunting, but I rated very highly the Ricercar Consort version a short while ago. Its balance and clarity of textures is excellent, and this remains my first choice. But Fretwork’s new recording is unlikely to disappoint. Nicholas Anderson