O Praise the Lord

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Blow,Child,Purcell,Turner
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Restoration Music from Westminster Abbey: Purcell, Blow, Child and Turner
PERFORMER: Robert Quinney (organ), The Choir of Westminster Abbey/James O’Donnell
CATALOGUE NO: CDA67792

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The title track of James O’Donnell’s new disc – written by William Child to greet the ‘Restauration of the Church and Royall Family’ in 1660 – sounds not so much like the church triumphant as a composer under-inspired. And 17th-century Anglican psalmody won’t set all pulses racing. But that aside, this collection of works composed to left and right of Purcell’s appointment as Abbey organist in 1679 couples marvellous music with a vivid sense of place. 

Most of it was probably written for the building where, in the Choir’s north aisle, Purcell lies buried, and who would begrudge such wonderful exceptions as Blow’s anguished Salvator mundi (tellingly prefaced by a searching chromatic Voluntary in D minor), and Purcell’s celebrated Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei.

It’s tempting to think that Latin brought out the best in them, but perhaps rather it’s the rawness of emotion suggested by the texts, for, with its plangent harmonies and waves of pleading, Purcell’s Hear my Prayer speaks straight to the heart.

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Throughout every work O’Donnell’s direction is alive to the sophisticated vocal layering, and ever attentive to the meaning of the words – an innate musicality echoed in Robert Quinney’s ‘voluntary contributions’, despatched with nimble virtuosity and a beguiling shapeliness. Paul Riley