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The Hibernian Muse – Music for Ireland

Soloists; Sestina; Irish Baroque Orchestra/Peter Whelan (Linn Records)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

The Hibernian Muse – Music for Ireland
Cousser: The Universal Applause of Mount Parnassus; Purcell: A New Irish Tune; Great parent, hail to thee!
Soloists; Sestina; Irish Baroque Orchestra/Peter Whelan
Linn Records CKD685   70:07 mins

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‘Welcome to all the Pleasures’ is the title of Purcell’s 1683 Ode to St Cecilia, but it could just as well serve as recommendation for this illuminating snapshot of Dublin’s musical life to left and right of the year 1700. Purcell’s engaging – but less well-known – Great parent, hail to thee! celebrates the centenary of Trinity College with the hope that ‘Liffee make as proud a name, as that of Isis or of Cam’ (an allusion to rivals Oxford and Cambridge); and Peter Whelan’s alert direction ensures an effortless fluency that strikes a fruitful rapport between the well-matched vocal quartet and instrumental playing instinct with freshness and vitality.

The real discovery, however, is Hungarian-born Johann Sigismund Cousser (or Kusser) who, by 1716, had been installed as Chief-Composer and Music Master to the Viceregal Court at Dublin Castle. There he seems to have cornered the market for the celebratory ‘Serenata da Camera’, and The Universal Applause of Mount Parnassus salutes the 1711 birthday of Queen Anne with music of such genial inventiveness that it quite redeems the egregious sycophancy of the text. Tuneful numbers abound, and Cousser rings the changes with a vocal relay race on a ‘ground’ – the baton passing to each of the nine muses as well as to Apollo – and a woodwind-rich menuet among other delights. Instrumental textures are ravishingly varied, and the whole ends in a blaze of triumph, its pomp and circumstance beautifully punctured by Whelan’s imaginative postscript, a plaintive unaccompanied traditional air: Sín síos agus Suas Liom.

Paul Riley

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