COMPOSERS: Dido and Aeneas
ALBUM TITLE: Purcell
WORKS: Dido and Aeneas
PERFORMER: Rachel Lloyd, Robert Davies, Elin Manahan Thomas, Roderick Morris, Eloise Irving, Jenni Harper, Miles Golding; Armonico Consort/Christopher Monk
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 417
It is hard to make a mark with a new performance of Purcell’s Dido: recordings stretch back some 80 years and range from grand-scale classic accounts figuring great operatic divas (Kirsten Flagstad, Jessye Norman, Tatiana Troyanos) to more intimate, historically informed versions with lighter voices like Emma Kirkby or Emily Van Evera. Among the most memorable are Anthony Lewis’s 1961 version with Janet Baker in noble and mellifluous voice; William Christie’s period-instrument reading, with Véronique Gens adding sultry French colours and stylish embellishments; Emanuelle Haïm’s dynamic 2003 account, graced by Susan Graham’s magnetic Dido; and an interesting 2009 version by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, which features the glorious Sarah Connolly and includes dances from Purcell’s other works to replace lost originals.
This new recording, with a cast of youthful, fresh-voiced soloists and an ingenuous approach, recaptures the spirit of the first known performance in a Chelsea boarding school for ‘young gentlewomen’. Thanks to the slender instrumental resources, the text cuts through with perfect clarity and the singers are highly responsive to the accents and nuances of Nahum Tate’s poetry. Rachel Lloyd makes a graceful Dido, though she cannot compete in drama or gravitas with some of the great names who have tackled this role; Robert Davies is a velvet-voiced Aeneas, Elin Manahan Thomas an agile and dulcet Belinda, while the Sorceress and witches ham up their roles like the wicked witches of pantomime. Christopher Monks’s fleet direction and wispy instrumental playing enhance the all-pervasive dance rhythms. Kate Bolton