PURCELL Anthems & Services, Vol.7
Lindsay Kemp made a distinction at the end of his review of Vols. 5 and 6 (2/94) between volumes for the connoisseur or 'completist' and the ones which might attract the casual buyer. Vol. 7 heralds the second half of this enlightening series (Hyperion are currently projecting the final whistle after the twelfth) and is likely to delight both parties, as well as a third category of buyer who may be a connoisseur of fine music but not necessarily a 'completist'. The main reason is of course that this latest disc includes Purcell's hauntingly beautiful funeral music. Yet this recording is made up predominantly of anthems, devotional songs and a morning service (a functional, though not perfunctory, setting of the Te Deum and Jubilate) most of which disclose the range and quality of the composer's sacred oeuvre near its best. However much we admire Purcell's ability to inject his genius into the veins of a text, we cannot deny that the long-term effect in a number of anthems fails to leave us entirely satisfied. But few will quibble at the two settings of I was glad, the first of which was, until not long ago, thought to be the work of John Blow. This full anthem more than whets our appetite with its agreeable tonal and melodic twists; when the Gloria arrives, we are assured that this is vintage Purcell by the sensitive pacing as much as an exquisite contrapuntal denouement. A ripe treble sound blends favourably at the helm of an animated choral group which only very occasionally loses definition in thicker textured passages. To think that this is the work's debut recording is astonishing.
The earlier setting is more poignant. Opening with a string symphony in the spirit of a Locke consort, the music blossoms into a deliciously Elysian melodic fabric. Good sense is made of the overall shape and the soloists are, as ever, excellent. I am, however, rarely melted by the violin playing even though it is tasteful and well-judged, up to a point. How often the liquid and mercurial nature of Purcell's ritornellos seems to stump all but a very few. If the section from ''peace be within thy walls'' is a minor let-down after the earlier graces, Beati omnes is a positive gem. As Robert King suggests in his meticulous and detailed notes, this may well have been written for the composer's wedding. As with other Latin text settings, notably
Finally to the funeral pieces, performances of which abound plentifully on disc, most recently in a lovingly crafted and deeply thoughtful account from Winchester Cathedral on Argo (see above). Here we have an ominous procession from the Guild of Ancient Fifes and Drums and the first appearance of four 'flatt' trumpets—as opposed to two plus two sackbuts; the effect of this subtle timbral change makes extraordinary sense of the music, engendering a new grandeur and uncompromising clarity as would have befitted such an occasion. The vocal performances are earthy and impassioned but do not for me plumb the depths as effectively as Winchester's intensely prayerful account. Yet these moving strains are well caught and affecting in many respects and taking into account the revelations offered elsewhere on this disc, I can warmly recommend it to connoisseurs and casual buyers alike.'