Without apology, the review that follows
will be an unreserved rave! Essential Purcell is a sampler
of selections from Hyperion Records' comprehensive survey of the
works of Henry Purcell. Purcell's music, much of it hitherto unknown
to me, makes an indelible impression as he casts spell after spell
in the popular and religious musical forms of the 17th century.
I believe the music is essential listening whether secular or
devotional. With quality such as this, it is no wonder Purcell
was a star of the compositional firmament during the Restoration.
Inspired by wonderful conducting from
founder Robert King, the King's Consort amaze at their ability
to convey the technical brilliance and intense emotion of the
music. Performances like these cement Purcell's place as the greatest
of all English composers. Seldom does one find a CD of unquestionably
brilliant artistic quality. Luckily, this is just the beginning
of what may be a wonderful journey of musical discovery. There
are, according to Hyperion's terrific website (www.hyperion-records.co.uk),
twenty-nine CD's in the Purcell series. A real treasure chest.
The King's Consort is a gathering of
some of England's finest early music specialists. King directs
his vocal and instrumental forces with the utmost authority and
sensibility, and with deep respect for his musical tasks. All
twenty selections are performed with great consistency - by
ignoring the marvelously researched notes, one could be fooled
into thinking the various soloists and ensembles were recorded
at the same time and location! Singularly, each selection is fulfilling,
or they may all be enjoyed as a complete musical experience. Mr.
King has taken great care in choosing the repertoire and has
whetted my appetite to explore the music further.
Where to begin? Any track will serve
notice about the delights contained within, however, there are
several great moments that might serve as an appetizer before
consumption of all seventy-nine minutes. Anthems, the great musical
staple of the Church of England, are well represented. Hear
My Prayer O Lord, arguably Purcell's greatest, dates from
1680. Written in six-part harmony, the anthem is beautifully crafted,
using a three-minute crescendo to lead the listener to an emotionally
shattering close. The setup of the discord in the penultimate
bar smacks of true genius. Along the way, the listener is treated
to superb word-painting, indicative of Purcell's wonderful choice
of text. The sophistication and technical brilliance with which
this music is composed still leaves me humbled after experiencing
it many times. Truly heartbreaking.
If, by introduction, a slightly less
intense experience is warranted, listen to The Sparrow and
the Gentle Dove. It is sung resplendently by Charles Daniels
and is a prime example of Purcell's wonderful melodic style. Written
over a ground bass, the melody weaves its magic through Daniel's
beautiful tenor voice and ends, surprisingly, with a ritornello
in the strings. This one is a real treat.
The introductory "welcoming"
songs are exercises in beauty and betray their genesis as music
for happy occasions. The first, Welcome glorious morn,
displays rhythmic interplay between orchestral and vocal forces.
Another wonderful tenor, Rogers Covey-Crump (what a great name),
sings the "welcome" most invitingly. In Be welcome
then, great sir, the audience gets a chance to hear one of
the finest of counter-tenors, James Bowman. Superb performances
can also be found in more famous repertoire, such as Dido's
Lament, If Music be the Food of Love and Hail Bright
The recordings are natural and view
the music in the perspective of the genre. Soloists are not spotlighted,
but are placed slightly forward of the main forces as you would
find in a live performance. While listening to the spontaneity
of all the musicians, I was reminded of the excitement of a live
event. All areas of the sound spectrum are presented clearly and
are seamless in blend. Bass sound is secure, however, with the
gentle nature of early instruments, the volume will not rock the
foundations. Looking on the back cover, one discovers only three
producers for the twenty nine CD's of the complete set! Forces
in front and behind the microphones have demonstrated great expertise
leading to the incredible consistency of both recording and performances.
delivers exactly what it suggests, with performances of scholarship,
technical brilliance and, above all, supreme musicality. Robert
King, and Ted Perry (Managing Director of Hyperion Records) are
to be congratulated, and, more importantly, encouraged. Through
their considerable efforts, they have promoted the wonderful music
of Henry Purcell like no other record company.
As a duty to the performers and our
readers, reviewers from Audiophilia Online Magazine listen to
a recording many times. Rarely does one find a disc as exemplary
as this. Joy, exultation, and tears will help to prolong the
effects of these great performances long after the final chords
have died away. This is essential repertoire heard through an
essential recording and is very highly recommended.
-- Anthony Kershaw
Copyright©Anthony Kershaw, 1997