WORKS: Ayres and Songs from Orpheus Britannicus
PERFORMER: Jill Feldman (soprano), Nigel North (archlute), Sarah Cunningham (bass viol)
CATALOGUE NO: A2 DDD
After Hyperion’s complete editions – church music, odes, solo songs – we can pick and choose our Purcell. But the ‘Miscellany’ disc has an identity problem. Bott opens with six songs, sung with masterly technique through quicksilver character changes. After two harpsichord suites, impeccably ornamented, forces again change abruptly to string overtures and theatre music. Played one-to-a-part, the sound is sparse though perfectly legitimate – much was published for domestic enjoyment.
In Feldman’s selection from ‘… all the Choicest Songs… Compos’d by Mr Henry Purcell’, identity is indisputable – 21 songs, seventy minutes, one composer, one voice, with lute and gamba – and this disc, alone among present company, wins the accolade given above. Feldman is outstanding through the whole expressive range – simple dance-songs like ‘Fairest Isle’, the utterly entrancing solace of ‘Music for a while’, the mercurial mad moods of ‘From Rosy Bowr’s’, and the challenge of Dido’s plaintive ! Belinda’ stripped of its string postlude and deftly accompanied by lute alone. Clever ordering and consummate artistry has each song whetting the appetite for the next.
More songs come from Christine Brandes in a
recital refreshingly varied by the insertion of two string sonatas, immaculately if coolly played. Brandes has a fine-drawn sound, rather hard at expressive climaxes, but used to highly charged dramatic effect in ‘The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation’. Three songs by Blow appear at the end, an unexpected but welcome reminder, among our tercentenary celebrations, that Purcell didn’t stand wholly alone. (Don’t be misled by the booklet which credits Blow with a 99-year lifespan!)
Parrott’s contribution is sacred – and first-rate. He binds together superbly the contrasting fragments of Te deum and Jubilate. ‘In guilty night’ is blatantly theatrical – Samuel’s ghost approaches from his echoing tomb, evoked by Emily van Evera’s vividly characterised witch. Four string pavans, beautifully played, set the moods for the anthems which follow them. George Pratt