Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Purcell
LABELS: Chandos Chaconne
WORKS: Dido and Aeneas
PERFORMER: Maria Ewing, Karl Daymond, Rebecca Evans, Sally Burgess, Patricia Rozario; Collegium Musicum 90/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0586 DDD
Three highly contrasting views of Purcell’s only true opera. One, Victoria de los Angeles’s famed account with John Barbirolli, is a reissue, though it sounds less dated and less laboured than one of the newer accounts. For all her Romantic swoopings and deliberations, de los Angeles has a wonderfully pure voice; and the rest of the cast – Peter Glossop as Aeneas, Heather Harper as Belinda, and a young Robert Tear as the Sailor – reads like a singers’ Who’s Who of the time. Barbirolli and the ECO show a keenness in the discovery of the Purcellian style that speaks vividly across three decades.

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Three decades indeed, but has Maria Ewing, who plays Dido on Collegium Musicum 90’s recording, made in conjunction with a television production, learned anything about Purcellian style in the meantime? Hers is a lofty, remote, rather than distracted heroine, her rhythmic sense seriously compromised by an inability to resist self-indulgence. Richard Hickox, the conductor, seems very much in thrall to her. A pity, because the supporting cast (Rebecca Evans as Belinda, Karl Daymond as Aeneas) is a one.

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Which leaves Tafelmusik’s fine account, under Jeanne Lamon, on a Canadian Broadcasting Company disc. Tafelmusik’s playing is ultra-expressive, but their rich-voiced Dido, Jennifer Lane, knows that such expression must be matched by momentum. A fine supporting cast too. Stephen Pettitt