Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II, Vol. 3
The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CORO COR16182 72:27 mins
Monarchs were often dissolute, but had to be glorified in song; verses were usually wretched, yet had to be set. What’s a composer to do? Henry Purcell knew, as Harry Christophers again demonstrates in his fourth recording of ‘Welcome Songs’ – musical encomia for Charles II, and his brother after him – and related music by Purcell. By expanding arioso and instrumental movements, Purcell deftly minimised exposure to lines like, ‘Long live great Charles, the genius of this land, / And valiant York, his foes to withstand’. Christophers has here programmed as deftly as Purcell wrote, interweaving such sung tributes with Purcell hits more subtly linked to Charles II.
The performers are few – eight vocalists, two recorders, a 12-string band plus continuo – fleet, and wonderfully bold. In laments, the singers swell sustained notes with their melancholy; in snappy imitation, they make cascading motives sparkle. The men’s zany spontaneity in the catchy ‘Come, my heart’ channels the energy of the booze-ups where such song was born. The band is even better, etching contrapuntal subjects incisively and driving tempos with urgency. Yet the players and singers also relish solemnity: whether in the ‘Welcome Songs’, Purcell’s slow stage numbers, or the anthem ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway’, they give declaimed passages huge space, which makes a huge impact.
There are a few jarring moments. The super-slow tempo of ‘From those serene and rapturous joys’ undermines word sense; in ‘Blow, Boreas, blow’, some over-singing creeps in; and the finale of the second ‘Welcome Song’ could use a bit more heft. Still, this is a wonderful recording.