Purcell: Dioclesian

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Purcell
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Dioclesian
PERFORMER: Catherine Pierard, James Bowman, John Mark Ainsley, Mark Padmore, Michael George; Collegium Musicum 90/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0568 DDD
Dioclesian is the first of the semi-operas that Purcell wrote in the 1690s, a period that confirmed his reputation as England’s premier theatre-composer. Despite its historical significance, the work is musically rather bland. Though popular at the time, thanks chiefly to the spectacular and elaborate stage effects it accompanied, its music rarely rises above the functional.

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The masque from Act V has already been released by Chandos on a separate disc. This new disc, which collects the music from Acts I-IV, is more persuasive, if also more fragmentary. There are several delightful instrumental interludes, plus two fine arias in ‘Great Diocles the boar has kill’d’ and ‘Since from my dear Astrea’s sight’. The music, largely ceremonial in character, remains melodious throughout.

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Performances are polished, if a little diffident at times (‘Dance of the Furies’ sounds more like ‘Dance of the Mildly Irritated’). With so many Purcell recordings currently available, I’d recommend newcomers to the composer to try one of the ‘Odes and Welcome Songs’ discs (Hyperion) or Nancy Argenta’s superb solo recital, ‘O Solitude’ (Virgin Veritas). Graham Lock