Purcell - O Solitude
Andreas Scholl; Accademia Bizantina / Stefano Montanari
Decca 4782262 Buy now
If music be the food of love, Z379(a). Come, ye sons of art, away, Z323 – No 3, Sound the trumpet(a); No 5, Strike the viol. King Arthur, Z628 – Chacony; Fairest Isle; What power art thou. Chacony in G minor, Z730. The Fairy Queen, Z629 – One charming night. Pausanias, the Betrayer of his Country, Z585 – No 1, Sweeter than roses. Dido and Aeneas, Z626 – When I am laid in earth. The Gordian Knot Unty’d, Z597 – incidental music. Welcome to all the pleasures, Z339 – No 3, Here the deities approve. Oedipus, King of Thebes, Z583 – No 2, Music for a while. O dive custos, Z504(a). O solitude, my sweetest choice, Z406. Pavan in G minor, Z752. Now that the sun hath veiled his light (An Evening Hymn on a Ground), Z193
Andreas Scholl counterten; (a)Christophe Dumaux counterten
Accademia Bizantina / Stefano Montanari
Glimpses of Andreas Scholl’s quality can be heard but much is lost in transposition
Andreas Scholl’s voice is darker, less ethereal and not so beguiling as when it exploded onto the scene in the mid-1990s but this motley collection confirms that his way with words has strengthened. The finest Purcellian countertenors from Alfred Deller to Daniel Taylor have shown plenty of wonderful repertoire tailor-made for their voice-type and, indeed, Scholl includes most of the usual suspects. However, some of the ill-advised means by which the programme is expanded to fill a long disc are inartistic. Recourse to convenient transposition is not in itself an unforgiveable evil but here it is resorted to frequently and predictably: the downward adaptation of “Fairest Isle” and “An Evening Hymn” work pleasantly enough but an impersonation of Dido for an overdone rendition of her famous lament feels pointless (does the world really need to hear Scholl singing “When I am laid in earth”?), and the upwardly warbling in the bass Cold Genius’s frosty song from King Arthur is camped-up and silly, notwithstanding the undeniable iciness of Accademia Bizantina’s strings.
Stefano Montanari’s crisp direction seldom suggests an affinity to Purcell and the instrumental aspects of the recital are frequently insensitive and unidiomatic. Pleasing moments include two tenderly played G minor interludes (Chacony, Pavan), but the continuo accompaniment to “If music be the food of love” is horribly inelegant; the whimsical inclusion of harp does not reflect any genuinely historical notion about basso continuo as Purcell knew it in late-17th-century England (if I’m mistaken, readers are welcome to provide chapter and verse otherwise). Scholl sings “Music for a while” beautifully but our cares are considerably less than beguiled because of a ruinous battery of continuo instruments (the best performances tend to realise that only harpsichord and perhaps cello is sufficient, or maybe just a lute, but here we get all of them vying for attention obtrusively along with the over-employed harpist). “O solitude” starts promisingly with just an organ but after a few bars several other continuo players cannot resist obliterating the solitary atmosphere. Christophe Dumaux’s discomfort with singing English in the duet “Sound the trumpet” doesn’t help matters, although the two countertenors combine marvellously in O dive custos (an elegy on the death of Queen Mary but actually composed for two sopranos).
Another annoyance is the superficial booklet-note, which informs us that Dumaux “is a very cool guy” (so what?), and concludes with Scholl’s remark that “It’s not music for musicologists, it’s music for human beings”; as I’ve yet to meet a musicologist that is alien, bestial or resides with the undead, I’m not sure Decca should be promoting some sort of mindless discrimination between scholars and “ordinary folk like us” (once upon a time Decca’s Baroque artists were renowned for working in enthusiastic collaboration with leading academics but those halcyon days seem gone). This vexing product is only a pale ghost of an interesting statement but from time to time there are glimpses that Scholl is a decent Purcell singer, and his ardent fans will lap it up without reticence. David Vickers