Purcell: The Fairy Queen

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Purcell
LABELS: Collins Classics
WORKS: The Fairy Queen
PERFORMER: Gillian Fisher, Lorna Anderson, Ann Murray, Michael Chance, John Mark Ainsley, Ian Partridge, Richard Suart, Michael George; The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: 70132 DDD
This year marks the 300th anniversary of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, first performed in London’s Theatre Royal in May 1692. Among the composer’s last, and greatest, works, The Fairy Queen is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the style of the English Restoration masque. Unlike Italian opera the work is not all-sung but sprinkles masques, dances and songs through a spoken (and truncated) version of the original play.

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In common with most modern recordings, this Collins Classics set omits the spoken text. What we’re left with is two hours of Purcell at his most enchanting and dramatic, the music traversing raucous comedy, delicious love songs, exotic dances and, in Act 2, the haunting airs of Night, Mystery, Secrecy and Sleep.

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This new Harry Christophers recording will face stiff competition from two highly-acclaimed versions already on the market by John Eliot Gardiner (Archiv) and William Christie (Harmonia Mundi). Christophers’ approach is far closer to the former’s lightness of touch than to the latter’s bold theatricality, but for me he doesn’t quite capture the sense of magic that Gardiner elicits from the score. Nevertheless, this is a fine performance with some superb singing, particularly by Gillian Fisher and John Mark Ainsley. My one minor cavil is that Ann Murray sounds a touch anachronistic at times. Graham Lock