PURCELL The Food of Love
Paul Agnew is perhaps most readily associated with the French Baroque, but he is equally at home in English music. Here he presents a marvellous anthology of songs by Purcell. They are divided into groups which are separated by short instrumental pieces by other composers, giving well deserved solo spots to Anne-Marie Lasla and Elizabeth Kenny.
The programme – and it is a programme, which can be enjoyed at a sitting – begins with one version of “If music be the food of love” and ends with another: not Shakespeare, but Colonel Henry Heveningham. As you might expect, several songs employ a favourite device of Purcell’s, the ground bass. “O solitude”, exquisitely shaded though it is, comes across as rather too austere with nothing between the bass viol and the voice; but in the introduction to “Music for a while”, the viol starts and is joined in turn by theorbo and harpsichord, to excellent effect.
If the tone is predominantly sombre, there’s relief in “Man is for the woman made”, Agnew’s cheerful delivery perfectly complemented by a strumming guitar. The Evening Hymn – another ground – ends with a string of “Hallelujahs” that Agnew sings with an appropriate inwardness; it’s aptly preceded by the lesser-known and very different Morning Hymn. A pity that the original French of “O solitude” isn’t printed; and one eyebrow twitched at the booklet’s suggestion that Purcell was practically an honorary Frenchman – “The fatal hour”, for instance, is indebted to those “fam’d Italian Masters” – but it’s the performances that count: magnificent.