PURCELL 10 Sonatas In Four Parts
The newly founded Retrospect Ensemble has been created by members and trustees of the King’s Consort who wish to continue under the artistic direction of Matthew Halls (the King’s Consort will continue separately under Robert King). Retrospect intends to apply historically informed principles and inquisitive musicianship to a wide variety of repertoire, from large-scale works to intimate trio sonatas. It is in the latter sphere that the rebranded group makes its debut on disc, with the first of a two-disc series exploring Purcell’s sonatas in four parts.
Although not among Purcell’s most familiar works, there have been some fine recordings of these sonatas by London Baroque (Harmonia Mundi, 8/93) and the Purcell Quartet (Chandos, 10/89, 12/89). Retrospect’s performances comfortably rank alongside such stylish company. Matthew Truscott and Sophie Gent take turns as first violinist in five of the sonatas each, and the quality of conversational playing between them is deeply eloquent. Halls and Jonathan Manson contribute polished and heartfelt continuo-playing. Slow music such as the central Grave movement in Sonata X is ideally melancholic, and there is ripe emotional tension in the ascending chromaticism of the short Adagio that concludes Sonata V. The quicker music is played with impeccable technique and taste (such as the playful yet unforced Canzona Allegro in Sonata IX). Moreover, Linn producer Philip Hobbs has captured all of these musical virtues in a beautiful audiophile recording. It seems as if record labels are taking less interest in Purcell than in this year’s other big anniversary composers, but this goes some way towards making up for it.