Purcell Funeral Music for Queen Mary
Here comes Purcell year, and with it this disc to serve as a timely reminder of why we need it. It's a rather jumbled-looking programme, but included in it is the complete 1695 funeral music for Queen Mary reassembled for the first time, and thus putting Purcell's March and Canzona and the exquisite
As for the performances, the main strengths lie, as one might expect, in the superb choral singing of The Sixteen. The two Latin works and the three early settings of the Funeral Sentences that make up the first part of the disc-all youthful and determinedly chromatic—come off particularly well; Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei swells beautifully and irresistibly towards its first ravishingly Purcellian climax, In the midst of life pursues its expressive course with searing intensity. Harry Christophers shows a good grasp of the overall contours of the music here, using it to impart to these pieces a grand sweep that does them proud.
It's a characteristic that carries over promisingly into the sinfonia which opens the Birthday Ode, but thereafter I began to find things a little disappointing, mainly on account of the solo singing which is adequate but without really showing the same level of technical achievement as the choir. The use of high tenors instead of countertenors is no doubt correct and in some ways attractive, but I imagine many listeners would find the more relaxed approach shown by James Bowman in recordings of this work by Munrow, King and Leonhardt more ingratiating. Perhaps it's precisely Bowman's kind of experience that is lacking here, for Christophers's soloists are a young team drawn from the ranks of the choir, Libby Crabtree for instance, is a soprano with a voice full of simple charm, but in the two Latin elegies on the death of Queen Mary I found myself longing for a more mature brand of expressiveness. The biggest letdown, though, comes in the funeral music itself, which in these performances, for all their lugubrious atmospherics, sounds little more than perfunctory after what has gone before; but then Morley, bless him, was no Purcell.'