O poore distracted world!
This exploration of mostly 17th-century English sacred music understandably gives pride of place to Purcell and his mentors Locke and Blow but Les Voix Baroques also present melancholic works by composers who flourished more than half a century earlier, before the Civil War and Interregnum disturbed musical life. The use of single voices takes on the atmosphere of refined domestic devotional music, ideal for In guilty night by Robert Ramsey; this dialogue for the cursed Saul, the Witch of Endor and the ghost of the prophet Samuel hints at English emulation of Monteverdi madrigals and Les Voix Baroques also excel in Purcell’s more famous setting that offers greater dramatic intensity.
The desire for early 17th-century English musicians to emulate Italians went amusingly further in the case of John Cooper, who called himself Coprario (or Coperario); the album’s title is taken from his elegiac Funeral Teares. I admired the intimately balanced five-part singing in Martin Peerson’s O let me at thy footstool fall and the penitential If that a sinner’s sighs by John Milton. The singing and playing are unfailingly expert in a streamlined performance of William Croft’s Chapel Royal anthem Rejoice in the Lord (1720), which provides the missing link between Handel’s English church music and Purcell.