Purcell: King Arthur (highlights)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Purcell
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: King Arthur (highlights)
PERFORMER: Jennifer Smith, Gillian Fisher, Elisabeth Priday, Gill Ross, Ashley Stafford, Paul Elliott, Stephen Varcoe; Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 2292 45919-2 DDD
Purcell and Dryden’s King Arthur is an unlikely concoction for the modern listener. The drama is sporadic, the motivation obscure and the raison d’être, as we learn from Curtis Price’s excellent accompanying booklet, less than whole-hearted. Never mind, Purcell the dramatist and lyricist can infuse the most uncertain subjects with compelling life. King Arthur is best listened to as a series of mini-operas and, certainly, the music never disappoints. This CD of extracts from a completed version of the work from 1985 gives listeners most of what they would want to hear from the work.

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John Eliot Gardiner is at his best in the brisker dances and choruses, though the celebrated ‘Come if you dare’ solo and chorus is disappointingly cautious. Not everyone will respond to Paul Elliott’s tenor, though I do. Harder to take is Elisabeth Priday’s over-fragile Cupid. In general, I suspect that Arthur was a ruder British Worthy than the one presented here. There is a cragginess to the score which is for the most part missing here; the exception is a welcome Eddie Grundy tendency among the rustics in Act V. Jan Smaczny