Purcell: Hail! Bright Cecilia

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Handel,Haydn,Purcell
LABELS: NAIVE
WORKS: Purcell: Hail! Bright Cecilia; Handel: A Song for St Cecilia’s Day; Haydn: Cäcilienmesse
PERFORMER: Lucy Crow (soprano), Nathalie Stutzmann (contralto), David Bates (countertenor), Anders J Dahlin, Richard Croft (tenor), Neil Baker (baritone), Luca Tittoto (bass); Members of Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski
CATALOGUE NO: V 5183

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Mark Minkowski’s latest album stumbles on the happy idea to sing Cecilia’s praises through the mouthpiece of three of 2009’s most august anniversarians. Logistics precluded inclusion of the mammoth last version of Haydn’s Cäcilienmesse, so with Jesuitical aplomb Minkowski opts for the earliest state of the work – a Kyrie and Gloria – then undermines the cunning scholarly rectitude by adding two movements of the later Credo by way of ‘encore’. Perhaps the justification lies in the listening since it facilitates a wonderfully intense ‘Crucifixus’ and an ‘Et resurrexit’ which ends disc 2 on a blistering high.

Captivating as it is to have a continental perspective on that most continental of English composers, the Purcell Ode – for all Minkowski’s idiomatic theatricality and consummate synthesis of its French and Italian elements – registers less powerfully than the Handel. In part it’s because Anders Dahlin’s tenor never quite integrates the music’s rhetorical diversity, and the choir, recessed in the sound picture, sounds a tad woolly. Lucy Crowe, however, is a natural Purcellian, and gilds the discs’ triumph: Handel’s A Song for St Cecilia’s Day, a thrilling encounter with Dryden unmediated.

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Galvanised by Minkowski’s exquisite detailing, the Musiciens du Louvre is on white-hot form throughout, but in the Handel, Nils Wieboldt’s plangent cello sets the scene for ‘What Passion’ with such ear-tugging sensitivity a lesser singer than Crowe might have been utterly sidelined. Hail to Purcell and Haydn, but here Handel0 is the brightest Cecilia of all. Paul Riley