Purcell: The Cares of Lovers

Rowan Pierce (soprano), William Carter (theorbo); The Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr (Linn Records)

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CD_CKD592_Purcell

Purcell
The Cares of Lovers
Rowan Pierce (soprano), William Carter (theorbo); The Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr
Linn CKD592   59:47 mins

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This is soprano Rowan Pierce’s debut solo album. She’s proven her mettle to live audiences as the winner of solo competitions, as a soloist in top-ranking Early Music projects, as a Lieder singer, and as a principal in small, polished opera productions. For her solo recording launch she’s chosen Purcell theatre songs, with the stripped-back accompaniment of Richard Egarr on harpsichord and William Carter on plucked strings.

Pierce’s voice is delicious: clear, strong, supple, with sparkling top notes and a warm, textured middle and low register. She’s mistress of her words, bending vowels and clipping consonants to maximise rhetoric, whether desperate urgings or whispered promises. Shadowing her, and adding their own ideas, are Egarr and Carter. Under their fingers, even pedestrian continuo figuration can take on brilliant, unexpected forms. To this mix Carter brings the occasional wire-strung instrument, edging his lines with a pungent twang. Egarr and Carter’s duelling in two grounds by Purcell is ravishing.

Pierce doesn’t partake of her fellow-musicians’ daring. Purcell wrote for the Restoration playhouse, where tumult reigned, but Pierce tends to sanitise moments of excess. Dramatically her toughest music is ‘Mad Bess’, a 12-section number depicting a homeless woman driven insane by her beloved’s death. Gnashing dissonances, metric jolts, bizarre melodic juxtapositions – these ruptures don’t seem to reach Pierce, although she does deliver impactful fortissimos. Another strange absence is ornamentation. We get big dollops of decoration from the instrumentalists but not the singer, who sails along, oddly disengaged from their antics. Pierce is a poised and charming artist; we wait for her musical invention to soar free.

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Berta Joncus