WORKS: Eight Suites
PERFORMER: Malcolm Proud (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: CDE 84280 DDD
Though a minor part of his oeuvre, Purcell’s keyboard music exerts a definite charm. Of particular appeal is the set of eight harpsichord suites published in 1696, a year after his death, by his widow, Frances. Here Purcell’s fine-spun melodic invention skilfully blends native and Italian styles with the dominant French influence, most evident in the broken-chord style brisé of the lively corants and almands.
There are already two excellent discs of the complete suites available, by Martin Souter (Isis) and Kenneth Gilbert (Harmonia Mundi). I found Malcolm Proud’s new set less than convincing. His phrasing and rhythms seemed at times heavy-handed, his tempi a touch hard-driven, although the almands in Suites Nos 2 and 7 are excessively slow. I also found his harpsichord’s trebly tone very discomfiting.
Gustav Leonhardt offers refined playing and a pleasing sound. But his CD is a curious pot-pourri, mixing four brief organ pieces by Blow and two by Purcell with a compilation of the latter’s harpsichord works. Regrettably, only four of the eight suites are included. So, despite Leonhardt’s elegant authority, Souter and Gilbert remain the top recommendations for listeners keen to explore the best of Purcell’s small but attractive harpsichord legacy. Graham Lock