Purcell: O Solitude

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Purcell
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: ‘O solitude, my sweetest choice!’; The Gordian Knot Unty’d; If music be the food of love; Come ye sons of art, away; Chacony in G minor; O dive custos Auriacae domus; Pavan in G minor; extracts from King Arthur, The Fairy Queen, Pausanias, Dido and Aeneas, Welcome to all the pleasures, Oedipus & King of Thebes
PERFORMER: Andreas Scholl, Christophe Dumaux (countertenor); Accademia Bizantia/Stefano Montanari
CATALOGUE NO: Decca 478 2262

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Following their inspiring discs of Roman Baroque music, Handel cantatas, and arias for Senesino, German countertenor Andreas Scholl and Italian ensemble Accademia Bizantina turn their sights to the ‘English Orpheus’, Henry Purcell. From theatrical works to sacred hymns, celebratory odes to mournful elegies, the full range of Purcell’s output is on parade here, with many of the old favourites given new vitality in performances that fuse German precision with Italian style. 

Ethereal yet visceral, Scholl’s voice is the dream vehicle for Purcell. And if he lacks the cut-glass diction of earlier Purcellians like Alfred Deller or Peter Pears, he is nonetheless highly responsive to the poetic rhetoric, bar the occasional accentual idiosyncrasy. He gives an aptly breathless account, backed by shivering strings, of the ‘Cold Song’ from King Arthur; a hauntingly plangent reading – tragic rather than histrionic – of Dido’s lament, and performances of ‘O Solitude’ and ‘The Evening Hymn’ that seem, quite simply, to come from a world elsewhere. Scholl is partnered by countertenor Christophe Dumaux in the sublimely sensual ‘O dive custos’, and a lithe rendition, teasingly ornamented, of ‘Sound the trumpet’.

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Stefano Montanari coaxes thrilling playing from Accademia Bizantina, who dance and swagger, throb and pulsate with true Latin passion. Their continuo realisations – here delicate and intimate, there audaciously jazzy – are an unceasing delight. Kate Bolton