Purcell Funeral Music for Queen Mary

Author: 
Lindsay Kemp

Purcell Funeral Music for Queen Mary

  • Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei
  • Miserere mei
  • Funeral Sentences for the death of Queen Mary II, Man that is born of Woman, Z27 (c1680-2)
  • Funeral Sentences for the death of Queen Mary II, In the midst of Life, Z17 (2 settings, before 1682
  • Funeral Sentences for the death of Queen Mary II, Thou know'st Lord, Z58 (3 settings, Z58c with flat
  • (The) Queen's Epicedium, 'Incassum, Lesbia, rogas'
  • Birthday Ode, 'Love's goddess sure was blind'
  • O dive custos Auriacae domus
  • (The) Queen's Farewell
  • March and Canzona
  • (The) Queen's Farewell
  • I am the resurrection and the life
  • I know that my Redeemer liveth
  • In the midst of life
  • Man that is born of a woman
  • We brought nothing into this world
  • I heard a voice from Heaven
  • Funeral Sentences for the death of Queen Mary II, Thou know'st Lord, Z58 (3 settings, Z58c with flat

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 Thou know'st Lord, the secrets of our hearts (Z58c) in context alongside marches by James Paisible and Thomas Tollet and dignified settings of the remaining six funeral sentences by Thomas Morley. For good measure, the marches are all accompanied by the appropriate seventeenth-century infantry drum pattern, solemnly provided by six drummers. The source of all this reconstructional activity is the indefatigable Purcell scholar Bruce Wood, a man with a shaming knack of noticing things that no one else has about the music of Our Greatest Composer simply by looking at it. Thus, we also have what the box cover claims with some justification as a ''world premiere'' recording of the touching 1692 Birthday Ode for Queen Mary, Love's goddess sure was blind, in which one number has its obbligato instruments corrected from recorders to violins, and another its vocal range restored from soprano to tenor. Hoorah, of course—but really!
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.'

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