Purcell: The Fairy Queen

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Purcell
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: The Fairy Queen
PERFORMER: Susan Bickley, Lorraine Hunt, Catherine Pierard, Howard Crook, Mark Padmore, Richard WistreichSchütz Choir of London; London Classical Players/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 55234 2 DDD
This recording derives from a semi-staged revival of the 1692 adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with Purcell’s overture and five masques, one to be inserted into each act of the play. The music here, undiluted by the play, is a rich diet bordering on the indigestible, as short, charming airs and dances follow each other at breakneck speed. Yet additional CDs of bowdlerised Shakespeare, still lacking the spectacle of the original staging, with machinery, costumes, dance and stage action, are clearly impractical.

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The performance is superb, resonating with the wider dramatic context in which it was conceived. The rustic love scene between Coridon and Mopsa is hilarious, Padmore’s high tenor slipping into a falsetto giggle at the end. The stillness of Wistreich’s ‘Sleep’ is breath-taking as Titania is lulled into ‘sweet repose’. The upper voices contrast – Hunt colourful, Pierard and Bickley more artless – yet they blend perfectly in duets.

The orchestral sound, striking for its (authentic) absence of 16ft bass, creates a translucent texture matched by the 19-voice choir. The recorded sound is comfortably close, warmed by a gentle ambient resonance.

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Highly recommended as a fine tercentenary tribute to Purcell’s greatest large-scale work.