Sunday 22 June 2014

Purcell - Ten Sonatas in Four Parts

Purcell - Ten Sonatas in Four Parts
Purcell Ten Sonatas in Four Parts: The Kings Consort: Vivat
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on June 14 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Finely involving performances of Purcell's posthumously printed sonatas

This new disc from The King's Consort on their Vivat label, presents Henry Purcell's Ten Sonatas in Four Parts, the set which includes the Golden Sonata, played by Cecilia Bernardini and Huw Daniel (violins), Susanne Heinrich (bass viol), Lynda Sayce (theorbo) and Robert King (chamber organ and harpsichord).

When Purcell died in 1695 he seems to have done so very suddenly, with very little time for organised testamentary dispositions. Mrs Purcell was presumably left with a pile of manuscripts which she used for publications; A choice Collection of Lessons for Harpsichord or Spinet (1696), A Collection of Ayres Compos'd for the Theatre, and upon other Occasions (1697) and Ten Sonatas in Four Parts (1697).

Purcell had already published Twelve Sonatas in Three Parts in 1683. In fact Frances Purcell's introduction to the 1697 publication refers to sonatas that had 'already found many friends among the judicious part of mankind'.

The twelve 1683 sonatas were originally written for two violins and bass, but the arrival of Italian sonatas with a basso continuo part, led Purcell to add a separate basso continuo for keyboard and/or theorbo. Purcell's introduction in 1683 says 'he has now thought fit to cause the whole Thoro' Bass to be engraven'.

The later ten sonatas are so similar in style to the 1683 publication as to suggest that they were all written together, as they young Purcell wrote 22 sonatas in one fecund batch. Robert King's article in the CD booklet points out that the annual court summer recess to Newmarket would give musicians space for such activities.

The 1683 sonatas were arranged in a logical order of keys, rising in thirds and choosing 12 as a suitable symbolic number. The remaining ten are not so easily disposed. Robert King has come up with a satisfying order with the Golden Sonata at the centre (the name of the sonata remains a curiosity, it is not Purcell's), and finishing with the glorious G minor chaconne sonata. Whatever the sonatas origins, we can only admire Purcell's miraculous fecundity.

Apart from the final chaconne, all the sonatas are in five or six movements, but there is a lovely fluid feeling as the movements flow from one to another. Melodically there are numerous felicitous moments, and quite a few profoundly moving ones. But what gives the sonatas real delight is the distinctive Purcellian harmonic complexity underneath, with some lovely piquancy and a sophisticated use of dissonance.

The sonatas are superbly played with  Cecilia Bernardini and Huw Daniel  giving poised and balance performances. Susanne Heinrich on the bass violin clearly relishes the moments when bass viol and basso continuo diverge.

The admirable CD booklet includes not only a full historical background but a sonata by sonata discussion from Robert King.

Purcell would probably be surprised at the idea of the set being played in one go, but such is the combination of Purcell's genius and the artistry of the players that the time listening flashes by. Highly recommended.

Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695) - Sonata in A minor, Z804
Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695) - Sonata in D minor, Z805
Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695) - Sonata in G minor, Z806
Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695) - Sonata in C major, Z808
Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695) - Sonata in F major, Z810
Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695) - Sonata in D major, Z811
Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695) - Sonata in B minor, Z802
Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695) - Sonata in G minor, Z809
Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695) - Sonata in E flat major, Z803
Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695) - Sonata in cG minor, Z803
Cecilia Bernardini (violin)
Huw Daniel (violin)
Susanne Heinrich (bass viol)
Lynda Sayce (theorbo)
Robert King (chamber organ and harpsichord)
Recorded at The Menuhin Hall, Surrey, 27-29 October 2013
VIVAT 106 1 CD [77.56]
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