Purcell Harmonia Sacra

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Henry Purcell
LABELS: Aparté
ALBUM TITLE: Purcell Harmonia Sacra
WORKS: Tell me, some pitying angel; In the black dismal dungeon of despair; We sing to him, whose wisdom form’d the ear; etc
PERFORMER: Rosemary Joshua (soprano), Elizabeth Kenny (lute), Laurence Dreyfus (viola de gamba), Christophe Rousset (organ/harpsichord); Les Talens Lyriques


In his day, Purcell’s reputation, according to publisher Henry Playford, rested on his ‘peculiar Genius to express the energy of English Words, whereby he moved the Passions of all his Auditors’ – a quality that holds just as true for audiences today. His devotional songs ebb and flow with declamatory and lyrical writing, but their driving force is always the text and its emotive impact. Welsh soprano Rosemary Joshua brings to these accounts all the aplomb of a Baroque diva, with her sharply etched diction, perspicuous dramatic insights and varied vocal timbres. Perfectly able to produce a mellifluous bel canto, Joshua is far more interested in communicating sacred and poetic drama, the voice quavering with anguish and responding thrillingly to the lurching key changes of the quasi-operatic scena Tell me, some pitying angel. She’s chillingly stark-toned in the oppressive setting of In the black dismal dungeon of Despair, hauntingly fragile in With sick and famish’d eyes, seraphic in the valedictory Evening Hymn.

It would be easy for Joshua to steal the show, but the instrumentalists respond to her pliant vocal lines with sensitively articulated continuo playing. And to Purcell’s French-influenced keyboard works, Christophe Rousset brings a dash
of Gallic flair.


Kate Bolton