Thursday 10 April 2014

The Judgement of Paris

Daniel Purcell - The Judgement of Paris - Resonus Classics RES128
The year is 1700, the cause of opera sung in English seems to have stalled. Henry Purcell has been dead for 5 years and the score of his Fairy Queen lost so no further performances possible. His other semi-operas continue to be performed and Dido and Aeneas would be dismembered for inclusion into a play. But it is an expensive genre, and with no subsidy from the Royal court English opera, whether fully sung or semi-opera, founders.

A group of aristocrats led by Lord Halifax decide to remedy this and hold a competition. William Congreve writes a libretto, The Judgement of Paris, and composers are invited to set it. Four composers enter, Daniel Purcell, John Eccles, Gotfried Finger and John Weldon. Purcell, Eccles and Finger have links to the two theatre companies, with Weldon the outsider though he studied with Daniel Purcell's older brother (or cousin) Henry.

Weldon wins, Finger is annoyed and leaves London. Finger's opera has not survived, the other three have and in fact at the Proms some years ago all were performed in competition. Eccles's opera has gained a little currency in recent years but Daniel Purcell's is relatively unknown. Now Daniel Purcell's The Judgement of Paris it has been recorded by Julian Perkins, Spiritato and the Rodolfus Choir with Anna Dennis, Amy Freston, Clara Hendricks, Samuel Boden and Ashley Riches, the Resonus Classics label.

Whilst his elder brother Henry would undoubtedly have written something more sophisticated, Daniel Purcell's The Judgement of Paris is undoubtedly written by someone who understood the genre of opera. Granted there are limitations, Julian Perkins describes the piece's sole ground bass as stilted. But Daniel Purcell has written a large scale bravura piece. Whereas Eccles's work was full of expressive, if plain, recitative Purcell's work has symphonies (lots of them) and virtuoso arias with each goddess being allocated an instrumental companion.

Though Purcell's melodies are not always memorable, he certainly knew what was needed in a piece of music theatre. This being an English work, there is a lively role for chorus though Perkins feels that Purcell brings it in too late and Perkins introduces a short chorus to round off the first act.

It is a pleasure to welcome this recording for the sake of Daniel Purcell's opera but doubly so because Perkins and his forces give a delightfully involving and stylish performance which is more than recommendable on its own terms.

Samuel Boden makes a fine Paris with a lovely lyric tenor voice. His lovely seductive tones and lyrical cantilena impress particularly in his final aria when he makes his judgement in fine style. His three goddesses are Anna Dennis, Amy Freston and Clara Hendricks, each a charming delight. Dennis is suitably seductive as Venus, Hendricks is a very spirited Juno and Amy Freston a bravura Pallas. Ashley Riches makes a deeply dignified and involving Mercury at the opening.

The opera consists of a series of short numbers, 31 in all, with each goddess getting a little scene. Though I have seen it live many years ago, I have to confess to no remembrance of it in performance. But from this disc I think it would make a highly effective and delightful stage work.

Though the airs are short, the vocal writing is not uncomplicated and all soloists are stylish and involving. Spiritato! lives up to its name, giving us a spirited and sophisticated performance. There is crisp support from the Rodolfus Choir. Perkins keeps the work flowing nicely and gets a stylish performance all round.

The recording is download only on the Resonus Classics label, available in a variety of formats including studio quality. The accompanying booklet includes an excellent article, plus full text.

This recording is definitely highly recommend, and I do hope it converts people to Daniel Purcell's opera. Perhaps we might hope for a live double bill with his elder brother's one act masterpiece.

Daniel Purcell (1664 - 1717) - The Judgement of Paris (1700) [78.46]
Venus - Anna Dennis
Pallas - Amy Freston
Juno - Clara Hendricks
Paris - Samuel Boden
Mercury - Ashley Riches
Rodolfus Choir
Julian Perkins (Director)
Recorded St Johns Smith Square, 27-29 September 2013
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