WORKS: King Arthur
PERFORMER: Véronique Gens, Claron McFadden, Sandrine Piau, Susannah Waters, Mark Padmore, Iain PatonLes Arts Florissants/William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-98535-2 DDD
William Christie’s new King Arthur hails from a staging (recently seen in London) by Graham Vick for the Théâtre du Châtelet and the Opéra de Caen, traces of which remain on this recording in some irritating noises-on-and-off. It was a lavish spectacle, restoring Purcell’s marvellous music to its rightful dramatic context. Here, as each number tumbles after another with none of Dryden’s text to provide crucial points of reference, it is less convincing, highlighting the different interpretative approach needed for a music-only experience.
Speeds are brisk, impossibly so in some instrumental numbers, where the details of Purcell’s rich counterpoint are all but lost; a sense of the longer line is sacrificed to rigid one-bar phrases, fine in the dance movements but frustrating when Purcellmelodic gift really takes wing; and the presence of so many non-native English speakers renders Purcell’s perfect marriage of word and tone a less than happy one.
Admittedly, there are some fine individual moments – and the actual level of playing from Les Arts Florissants is first rate – but not enough to displace the old Anthony Lewis recording (Decca). However ‘inauthentic’ its text and performing style, it still captures best the spirit of Purcell’s ‘old England’. Antony Bye