Music for Queen Mary

Author: 
Lindsay Kemp

Music for Queen Mary

  • I was glad when they said unto me
  • Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem
  • Birthday Ode, 'Now does the glorious day appear'
  • Stript of their green our groves appear
  • O dive custos Auriacae domus
  • (The) Queen's Epicedium, 'Incassum, Lesbia, rogas'
  • Funeral Sentences for the death of Queen Mary II, Thou know'st Lord, Z58 (3 settings, Z58c with flat
  • March and Canzona
  • Whilst he abroad does like the sun
  • (The) Sullen years are past
  • I am the resurrection and the life
  • I know that my Redeemer liveth
  • We brought nothing into this world
  • Man that is born of a woman
  • In the midst of life
  • I heard a voice from Heaven
  • (The) Queen's Farewell
  • (The) Queen's Farewell

Hardly have the sombre drumbeats died away from Harry Christophers's premiere recording with The Sixteen of the 'real' funeral music for Queen Mary II (that is, more by Morley than Purcell) than here comes another. This time there is an extra stamp of authenticity, as it was made where the original service took place in Westminster Abbey, and directed by the man who, 300 years on, holds Purcell's old job of organist there, Martin Neary. These, then, are performances which drip with atmosphere, not just because there are boys' voices involved, but also because of the way in which they excite the giant spaces of the building itself. The recording takes care not to waste this precious advantage by going too close, even though that means sacrificing something in vocal clarity and rhythmic definition (though I suspect that the Abbey choir's singing would never have been as precise as that of the beautifully honed Sixteen anyway), and also that the whole thing is accompanied by the distant but pretty noticeable roar of London traffic. The result, in other words, is less polished (it is unfortunate, for instance, that the climactic top note of Purcell's Thou know'st, Lord, the secrets of our hearts suffers from disagreements over intonation) but undeniably grander and with more sense of occasion. Neary's drummers, let loose in the larger building and thus able to play louder, manage to evoke a far more urgent feeling of grief for the much-loved queen, one which seems to verge almost on desperation.
The funeral music itself only takes about 20 minutes, and so, as with the Christophers disc, there are lots of goodies to go with it. Sony follow a similar scheme to Collins by offering Purcell's two Latin elegies on the queen's death and one of the odes he composed to celebrate her birthday (this time it is the splendid Now does the glorious day appear for her first birthday on the throne in 1688—how lucky she must have felt!); but they then pursue the Marian theme a bit further with a group of songs in her praise by Purcell and Blow, and the two Purcell anthems heard at her coronation, I was glad and Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem. The anthems benefit once more from being heard in the Abbey acoustic for which they were intended, while the strengths of the other pieces (all of them written for more intimate occasions) lie mainly in some fine solo singing, including Michael Chance and Ian Bostridge in the ode, and the increasingly well-matched pairing of Emma Kirkby and Evelyn Tubb in the two-voice elegy, O dives custos (rendered in the quirky Latin pronunciation of seventeenth-century England). Purcell's tercentenary year may not have got very far yet, but already this disc looks as though it will be one of his more fitting tributes. (This programme, from these performers can, incidentally, be seen and heard on March 5th on BBC2 and Radio 3.)'

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