David's Review Corner
, March 2008
Naxos here announce the opening of a highly ambitious series containing the complete theatre music by Henry Purcell, a composer prolific in his output of incidental music for dramatic presentations in the second half of the 17th century. Purcell was only twenty when he was given the prestigious post of organist in London’s Westminster Abbey, and from therein to his untimely death in 1695, he divided his time between working in the service of the royal family and the commercial theatre in London. He was acknowledged as one of the great Baroque composers, yet seemed quite happy to work on two different levels. On the one hand we have his very serious compositions for the church and opera house, while at the same time he was writing populist works for the theatre. The present disc combines instrumental pieces, songs and choruses from three major scores, Amphitryon, The Gordian Knot Unty’d and Circe, the presentation from the Canadian-based Aradia Ensemble creating a theatrical event. All three works date from 1690, the music at times reflecting the action of the story, but also acting as pleasing interludes with little relation to the plot. There is one additional track, with the song, Blow, Boreas, Blow, coming from the 1681 comedy, Sir Barnaby Whigg. The music throughout falls easily on the ear, the Jigg from The Gordian Knot Unty’d being instantly recognisable. I am pleased the performances are on period instruments, though an attempt to create a period vocal response is distinctly misguided. I did, however, particularly enjoy the soprano, Andrea Jeffrey, in the song, Celia, that I was once blest, from Dryden’s comedy, Amphitryon. Kevin Mallon directs from the leader’s chair, the playing both neat and stylish, the church recording venue giving a nice bloom to the sound. I look forward with considerable anticipation to the next releases.