Purcell Odes

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Purcell Odes

  • Birthday Ode, 'Come ye sons of art away'
  • (The) Bell Anthem, 'Rejoice in the Lord alway'
  • My beloved spake
  • St Cecilia's Day Ode, 'Welcome to all the pleasures'

I expressed reservations about Alfred Deller as director of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in my survey of the opera's recorded legacy in the March issue. Here, again, we find him at the helm in two odes and two verse anthems by the same composer in recordings made in 1959 and 1962. The problem with Dido was that the tempos were ill-judged and the dramatic power of the work was too regularly undermined; moreover, there was (not surprisingly in Dido) no opportunity for Deller to display his most outstanding asset as the leading countertenor of the day. There are, thankfully, opportunities to hear him in this Vanguard reissue, though I doubt whether anyone would consider all of them to be amongst his best moments: Come, ye sons of art away is uneven by the high standards which Deller habitually set himself, though ''Sound the trumpet'' from the same ode (where he is joined by his son, Mark) is spirited and ''Strike the viol'' is languidly phrased and deftly shaded. If the ground here has a poise and lilt which delights, tempos again can be something of an Achilles' heel over long periods and the spontaneous unfolding of the nine movements of Come, ye sons eludes Deller. In the shorter term, too, there is a tendency to over-accentuate every other beat so that movements like ''The Day that such a blessing'' becomes graceless and unrelenting, without the customary flexibility and delicatesse which Deller brought to his singing.
Things change for the better in Welcome to all the pleasures. ''Here the deities'' is the piece de resistance for Deller fans, beautifully shaped, sweetly articulated and sensitively accompanied on the harpsichord by Walter Bergmann. His consort are, as so often, admirable at creating a special ambience which can warm the cockles; they mollify proceedings considerably in the so-called Bell Anthem (Rejoice in the Lord alway), where the words are beautifully conveyed and the textures expertly controlled. Deller's most appealing sense of conviction and jauntiness combine magically here, and in My beloved spake we have another chance to praise a consort which is capable of blending without losing the distinctive qualities of the individual voices.
Much to admire, then, though the best-known piece, Come, ye sons, is disappointing overall. The transfer sound is good with some minor interference in track 10 (c3'50''). The texts are shockingly proof-read. R1 '9507127'

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