Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

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LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Dido and Aeneas
PERFORMER: Nancy Maultsby, Susannah Waters, Russell Braun, Laura TuckerBoston Baroque/Martin Pearlman
Yet more versions of Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas arrive as a post scriptum to the 1995 Purcell anniversary year. One of them, directed by Martin Pearlman, is a newcomer to the lists while the other, directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, was recorded 13 years ago and has previously been reissued. Both performances show a lively awareness of Baroque convention and a feeling for the subtle inflections of Purcell’s little dramatic masterpiece. On balance Pearlman’s is the less mannered of the two and the more sharply defined in respect of rhythm and declamation. Harnoncourt, as so often, introduces a more personal note which some listeners may accept with greater willingness than others. For me, the portentous gestures of the Overture are realised with chilling menace by Harnoncourt, drawing us into Dido’s tragic destiny right from the start. Pearlman is more restrained but, though his direction is more in tune with current orthodoxy than that of his rival, the drama comes across as more of a misfortune than a tragedy. Ann Murray (Harnoncourt) and Nancy Maultsby (Pearlman) are, in their different ways, eloquent and pathetic Didos, Murray providing the stronger characterisation of the two. In short, Harnoncourt’s performance, though less even than the other, is the more dramatically compelling. Nicholas Anderson