Anonymous: The Play of Daniel

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Anonymous
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Anonymous
WORKS: The Play of Daniel
PERFORMER: Simon Grant, Vivien Ellis, John Potter; The Dufay Collective/William Lyons


It is now 50 years since the first modern performance of this 13th-century drama. That was by the New York Pro Musica and they dressed up in medieval clothes, added all kinds of instruments and had fire-eaters and prancing lions. Things have calmed down since then – perhaps a bit too much if this neat, but rather staid, performance is anything to go by. The singing is musical enough. Simon Grant is an authoritative Belshazzar and Vivien Ellis conjures up some striking declamation as his Queen. John Potter is lyrical and sure-footed as Daniel, but in the long explanation of the strange words, ‘Mane, Tekel, Phares’ there is no variation of the repeated melodic formula and he pauses mechanically at the end of every half line, even when the sense runs on. The play mentions various instruments (‘Darius enters with harp players’, etc), but these indications are usually not followed exactly, and the skilful added accompaniments can seem over-busy, as when the Queen recommends that the King consults Daniel (‘Ut scribentis’). The recording is clear and spacious (particularly for the procession at the end), but for a more alert performance and live acoustic try the version by Ensemble Venance Fortunat. Anthony Pryer