ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Fairest Isle
WORKS: A New National Songbook: songs by Purcell, Handel, Arne,
PERFORMER: Catherine Bott (soprano), Joseph Cornwell (tenor); Psalmody, The Parley of Instruments/Peter Holman
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67115
This compilation of 17th- and 18th-century ‘national songs’ includes well-known patriotic works like Purcell’s ‘Fairest isle’ and Arne’s ‘Rule, Britannia’, alongside more obscure numbers: jolly theatre songs by Arne, Dibdin and Handel; lovelorn laments set in picturesque, pastoral England; and a couple of charming Scottish airs by the ‘London’ Bach, Johann Christian.
Soloists Catherine Bott and Joseph Cornwell offer stylish interpretations of these tuneful, undemanding pieces. Bott affects a convincing Scottish accent in several numbers, though I found her vocal portamenti somewhat mannered. Cornwell takes a suitably tongue-in-cheek approach towards the patriotic pomp, particularly in his rousing rendition of what is probably the original version of ‘The British Grenadiers’.
There is some elegantly shaped wind playing by The Parley of Instruments, though its string sound is not the most ingratiating; and the voices of Psalmody adopt a somewhat contrived roughness, presumably to convey the homespun nature of much of this music. Director Peter Holman deserves full credit for his assiduous research into this and other early English repertoire, and though a handful of these songs goes a long way, the disc provides valuable insight into early 18th-century music and national identity. Kate Bolton