Purcell: The Fairy Queen

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Purcell
LABELS: Erato
WORKS: The Fairy Queen
PERFORMER: Catherine Bott, Jeffrey Thomas, Michael SchopperAmsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir/Ton Koopman
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-98507-2 DDD
In case you’re wondering if we need a new Fairy Queen so soon after Norrington’s splendid EMI account (see February), this version does differ from that and previous recordings on a number of points. Repeats are more generously provided for, making more sense of some of the numbers, which look rather lopsided or impossibly slight in the Purcell Society Edition; ‘A thousand ways’ becomes a two-voice duet; the usual violin obbligato of ‘O let me weep’ is given, convincingly, to an oboe; and the running order is slightly rearranged. These alterations make dramatic sense and are musicologically plausible. But does the performance justify the expense in acquiring it for those reasons alone?

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On balance, probably not. The orchestral playing is, as expected, a joy throughout: the instrumental movements are delivered with just the right degree of grace and exuberance, though one suspects some pretty nimble dancers would be needed to keep up with some of Koopman’s hectic tempi. But for consistent vocal contributions one needs the EMI: though there are exceptions, much of the singing here is pallid, often ill-tuned and under-characterised. A pity, since orchestra and conductor are on such good form. Antony Bye