Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

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WORKS: Dido and Aeneas
PERFORMER: Kym Amps, David van Asch, Anna Crookes, Sarah ConnollyScholars Baroque Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553108
The Scholars Baroque Ensemble has opted for a chamber-scale performance, perhaps reflecting the modest resources probably available to Josias Priest’s Chelsea boarding school, where the work may have first been presented. The performance gets off to a somewhat lustreless start with an overture that fails to convey the dark foreboding inherent in Purcell’s ominous harmonic shifts. The instrumental ensemble throughout is one of single strings, and very good it is, too. But, every now and again, I found myself longing for something with more body as, for example, in the wonderfully evocative Prelude for the witches at the beginning of Act II. The drama quickly takes off, though, with soprano Kym Amps as a Dido capable of expressing her spirits ‘pressed with torment’. Soprano Anna Crookes is a sympathetic Belinda and bass David van Asch an articulate Aeneas who brings more life to a difficult role than many of his rivals. The Sorceress – ‘what a wonderful part for the resident school nurse,’ remarks van Asch in a note on the recording – is here treated as a mezzo-soprano role and splendidly realised by Sarah Connolly. The choruses are sung by members of the cast and are notably successful for their linear clarity. Among the insertions are two Guitar Dances, improvised with propriety, and an effective thunder sheet. A musical and mainly dramatic account. Nicholas Anderson