Purcell: Ode for St Cecilia’s Day; Dido and Aeneas

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Purcell
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Ode for St Cecilia’s Day; Dido and Aeneas
PERFORMER: Carolyn Watkinson (soprano), Ruth Holton (soprano), Nicola Jenkin (soprano), Teresa Shaw (mezzo-soprano), Michael Chance (alto), Paul Tindall (tenor), George Mosley (bass) Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 432 114-2 DDD
This latest performance of Dido is medium-scaled: 11 strings, archlute and harpsichord continuo, and Baroque guitar to supply the missing dances. Instruments and choir are full of character, from the echoing gloom of the witches’ cavern to the drunkenly irregular phrases of the sailors’ departure.

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Solo voices are light and uncomplicated. Notable among them is Ruth Holton, a delightfully young-sounding Belinda, for all her worldly wisdom. George Mosley is a fine Aeneas, and Teresa Shaw a sorceress quite evil-sounding enough without resorting to the vocal distortions which sometimes reduce this role to mere farce. Carolyn Watkinson’s Dido is disappointing. Too often, pathos infects pitch, and anguish fragments musical line. She is, though, magnificently haughty – a woman scorned – in her final dismissal of Aeneas.

Gardiner, as ever, paces the action very effectively. There’s a strong sense of dramatic continuity, as if the recording has been made with few interruptions, despite an untidy edit here and there.

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The disc is good value. Gardiner’s lively tempi make room for the bonus of the Ode, ‘Welcome to all the Pleasures’, in which both Michael Chance (alto) and Paul Tindall (tenor) are outstanding. George Pratt