ALBUM TITLE: Purcell
WORKS: Come, ye sons of Art; Love’s goddess sure; Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary; Funeral Sentences; Funeral Anthem of Queen Mary
PERFORMER: Kate Royal (soprano), David Hansen, Tim Mead (countertenor), Andrew Staples (tenor), Jacques Imbrailo (bass); Choir of King’s College, Cambridge; Academy of Ancient Music/Stephen Cleobury
CATALOGUE NO: 344 4382
Compared with our concern for period instruments, choral tone meets strange indifference. Most available recordings of Purcell’s Odes are sung by mixed voices – Monteverdi Choir, Taverner Choir, English Concert voices – all warmly commendable, but not recreating the distinctive sound of Chapel Royal trebles who sang for the Queen’s birthdays, and her funeral in 1695. An honourable exception is New College Choir, Oxford, sharing in Robert King’s revelatory eight-disc set of all 24 Odes and Welcome Songs (Hyperion). In the repertoire on this new disc, though, Cleobury, King’s College, and the AAM prove currently unbeatable.
King’s College Chapel provides a glorious acoustic, splendidly recorded, bathing the music in resonance but retaining every detail. Cleobury moulds musical details thoughtfully, nuances emerging and retreating subtly in the ‘Symphony’ opening Come, ye sons of Art. David Hansen is an exceptional countertenor with barely perceptible gear-change between strong low register and rich upper range. Orchestral oboes are breathtaking, the oboe/soprano duet ‘Bid the virtues’ is heavenly, stylish ornamentation creates a sense of irresistible joy in ‘Strike the viol’. In Love’s goddess, Jacques Imbrailo, bass, leaps with pin-point accuracy around the angular line of ‘Those eyes that form’ while Edward Phillips is a treble mature beyond his years in both expression and technique.
The following Funeral Music is deeply moving: a beautifully blended quartet of soloists from the choir for the Sentences (dating astonishingly from Purcell’s teens); a drum processional approaching from afar before the familiar March and Canzona, shorn of spurious additional timpani. George Pratt