D PURCELL The Judgment of Paris
‘At last we have a recording of John Eccles’s Judgment of Paris’, wrote Julie Anne Sadie of the Early Opera Company’s release (Chandos, 6/09). Well amen to that, and welcome now to a first recording of Daniel Purcell’s setting of the same Congreve one-act text. That there are two versions, both composed in 1701, is because they were entries in a competition (won by a third Judgment, by John Weldon) designed to promote all-sung opera in English at a time when there might still have been a future for it before the onslaught of Italian opera.
Daniel Purcell was probably the younger brother of Henry and had notable theatre experience, having among other things completed Henry’s score for The Indian Queen. Of the Judgment entrants his is unsurprisingly the most ‘Purcellian’. The atmosphere is richly scored and expansive, unfolding in florid and sophisticatedly inflected vocal writing at a relaxed pace that makes it more like a hybrid of opera and ode than the more plain-speaking and theatrically focused offering from Eccles. Indeed, its high-flown manner, plus the fact that it lasts nearly half an hour longer than the Eccles, could explain why it failed to win. Yet if it is a tad self-indulgent as a stage work, it is still a good listen, its virtues including colourful and well differentiated music for the goddesses – Juno, Pallas and Venus – whose charms are judged by shepherd Paris.
Spiritato! and the Rodolfus Choir are both young ensembles, and if more polish may be expected in years to come, they show heartening dramatic energy under Julian Perkins’s assured direction (although it is a pity that some of the gaps between tracks impede dramatic momentum). The soloists cope reasonably well with Purcell’s heavy-duty melismas but again more experience may allow them to introduce more light and shade. The pick of them is Samuel Boden, who as an enraptured Paris sounds like the kind of intelligent and vocally comfortable high tenor to watch for, but I also enjoyed the aristocratic elegance of Anna Dennis’s Venus.
Well done to Resonus for jumping in where others have not. Who now will take on the Weldon?