Eccles – The Judgement of Paris; Three Mad Songs

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Eccles
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: The Judgement of Paris; Three Mad Songs
PERFORMER: Roderick Williams, Benjamin Hulett, Susan Bickley, Claire Booth, Lucy Crowe; Chorus of Early Opera Company; Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0759

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‘View me well and judge aright’. Sung by Juno, this line articulates the wish of the masque’s composer. John Eccles submitted The Judgment of Paris in public competition against three other settings of the libretto. Due probably to a claque organised against him, he lost, despite his superiority.

He hasn’t fared much better with modern scholars who, judging him inferior to his sometimes collaborator Henry Purcell, have most often relegated him to the margins of music history.

In this first recording of The Judgment of Paris, the Early Opera Company triumphantly reclaim Eccles’s rightful place as one of England’s finest theatrical composers. Although Eccles was clearly indebted to Purcell, his dramatic flair was unrivalled. The suppleness of his melodies, vitality of his rhythms, and imaginativeness of his scoring possess an immediate appeal.

Christian Curnyn elegantly captures the unique charms of Eccles’s music. Contrasts of nature between Juno (regal), Pallas Athena (martial) and Venus (tender) emerge subtly through Curnyn’s calibration between articulation and tempo.

Casting is perfect: as Venus, Lucy Crowe’s melting lyricism, delicately underpinned by plucked and bowed instruments, is irresistible; the vigour of Claire Boothe (Pallas) and dignity of Susan Bickley (Juno) are equally impressive. Cunning twists in the band’s delivery from robust to fragile realise the score’s range of effects.

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For my taste, the recorded sound is too ascetic in the reduced continuo sections, but this is a minor quibble against an important recording that lets us finally ‘judge aright’ the talents of Eccles. Berta Joncus