WORKS: Music by Handel, Purcell, Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Schütz
PERFORMER: James Bowman (countertenor), David Lumsden (organ), Benjamin Britten (piano); Early Music Consort of London/David Munrow, Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood, LPO/Raymond Leppard, ECO/Simon Preston
CATALOGUE NO: 436 799-2 ADD/DDD
This disc continues the celebration of Bowman’s quarter-century as professional countertenor, with selections from the main periods of his performing career. Medieval songs with David Munrow’s Early Music Consort of London make a nostalgic opening. Munrow brought early music to life as no one before him, and the young Bowman responds splendidly. Twenty years later come two numbers, with Hogwood, from Handel’s Orlando. These include the Mad Scene, the most remarkable outburst of demented passion in the Baroque operatic repertoire – and it’s fascinating to hear how constant Bowman’s tone has remained.
It’s a little darker now, a touch less mannered, yet still unmistakable and unique. Other forgotten treasures include two of Schütz’s Little Sacred Concertos with David Lumsden and more colourful Handel from Israel in Egypt. Last comes a poignant moment: Britten accompanying Purcell’s ‘Sweeter than Roses’ in his own realisation – and his last ever recording. Sketchy notes paint some background to the man, though less to the music. Bowman’s great contribution to contemporary music, stimulating and commissioning composers to write for him, is omitted from this selection. Yet musically this is a fascinating disc, and the variety of recording quality provides a parallel ‘portrait’ of changing tastes over the years. George Pratt