Purcell_Music for a While; Handel_Trio Sonata Op. 5 No. 4
An odd programme – Purcell songs and Handel’s radiant solo motet Silete venti, with items for the girls and boys in the band in between. Presumably it is designed as a showcase for soprano Miriam Allan, who reveals herself as what these days could almost be termed an ‘old-fashioned’ early music singer, which is to say bell-like in tone and fearless in the use of non-vibrato. I say ‘fearless’ because it runs the risk of sounding colourless and inflexible, a risk that Allan does not always overcome, most notably in a rather icy account of ‘Fairest Isle’. Elsewhere, snatched phrase-endings, stiffly conceived embellishments and indistinct words (not helped by the recording) give the impression of a Purcell singer wanting in either the sensual warmth of a Carolyn Sampson or the textural lucidity of an Emma Kirkby. Yet it does not have to be so: Allan is perfectly capable of nourishing the tone in places and her readings of the more theatrical ‘She loves and she confesses too’ and ‘O! Fair Cedaria’ are convincing and personable. Silete venti brings more expansiveness from her and she shows impressive agility in the passagework of ‘Date serta’ but in general she still needs to take greater interpretative command and find a more generous way of shaping phrases.
This is the first time I have heard Silete venti with single strings and, despite an improved balance over the Purcell, I am not sure that any gains in intimacy and transparency are outweighed by the loss in stateliness. Ironwood’s fine performance of Purcell’s Chacony is richly contoured, however, while the Handel trio sonata has weight enough to sound almost orchestral, thanks in part to an added viola line (which also allows the fun of an outrageous Purcellian cadence at the end). But it doesn’t stop this disc from being only a partial success.