Wednesday 13 December 2017

Royal Welcome Songs for King James II

The Sixteen - Purcell - Welcome Songs fro King James II
Henry Purcell Royal Welcome Songs for King James II; The Sixteen, Harry Christophers; Coro
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 8 2017 Star rating: 4.5
What might seem like a poor subject elicits some wonderfully imaginative music from Purcell

On this disc from Coro we get a pair of Henry Purcell's Welcome Songs for King James II performed by The Sixteen, conductor Harry Christophers. Occasional pieces which showcase Purcell's imaginative talent, the Sixteen perform them with a selection of other occasional pieces, many written during the same period.

The Sixteen's Purcell series is a welcome extension of the choir's residency at the Wigmore Hall which gave us the opportunity to hear a number of Purcell's odes and welcome songs, part of his output which does not seem to get enough exposure. Part of the problem, of course, is the sheer concept of the Royal Ode or Welcome Song, complete with text in some way complimenting the monarch. Frequently these can be trivial and verge on the risible.

With Purcell's Welcome Songs for King James II, you sense that an element of knowingness might be creeping in. The two in this disc Ye tuneful muses, raise your heads and Sound the trumpet, beat the drum date from 1686 and 1687 respectively, written for James II'return to town from the extended summer, on a date which co-incided with his birthday.

The King's behaviour at the time, as he seemed to veer towards absolutism and impatience with ordinary norms, could hardly have inspired respect and Purcell's attitude to the words is occasionally perfunctory.
He also seems to be introducing almost satirical hints, but his imagination was clearly fizzing and there are lots of felicitous elements which delight. Unusually for this genre, there are large stretches of music for instruments and some fine choral moments. So if you forget who the words were hymning, then there is much to delight.

The performances are exemplary, Christophers and his performers clearly enjoying the way the music moves fluidly and imaginatively between movements and the style of the pieces with their long solos and duet, relatively compact ensembles gives us a welcome closer view of the singers than we usually get with the Sixteen.

Around these two welcome songs (each a little over 20 minutes each), Christophers has placed an interested medley of occasional pieces. The disc opens with the well-known Chacony in G followed by the interestingly dense and chromatic When on my sick bed I languish which comes from the same manuscript as the viol fantasias.

God is gone up with a merry noise is a delightful and challenging canon with all the seven parts doing fanfare imiitations, whilst Save me, O God, for they name's sake is more simply a well crafted anthem. Some of the music has political links to the main theme of the disc, True Englishmen drink a good health is one of Purcell's lively catches, but the words refer to events of James II's reign. Two harpsichord pieces, Lilliburlero and A New Scotch Tune related to the popularity of King William III's victory on the Boyne, following James II's fall.

The music is performed by an ensemble consisting of sopranos Katy Hill & Kirsty Hopkins, alto Daniel Collins, tenors Jeremy Budd, Mark Dobell & George Pooley, and basses Ben Davies & Stuart Young with the solos being shared between them. They are accompanied by an ensemble of 12 strings, led by Sarah Sexton and recorders, plus David Miller, theorbo, Frances Kelly, harp and Alastair Ross, harpsichord / organ.

The sheer variety and occasional nature of Purcell's output can rather mitigate against it being performed, but here Christophers and his forces have crafted an imaginative programme full of delights, engagingly performed.

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) - Chacony in G minor, Z730
Henry Purcell - When on my sick bed I languish, Z144
Henry Purcell - True Englishmen drink a good health Z284
Henry Purcell - Welcome Song: Ye tuneful Muses Z344
Henry Purcell - A new Irish Tune in G (Lillibulero) Z646
Henry Purcell - God is gone up Z107
Henry Purcell - A new Scotch Tune in G Z655
Henry Purcell - Save me, O God Z51
Henry Purcell - Welcome song: Sound the trumpet Z335
The Sixteen
Harry Christophers (conductor)
 CORO COR16151 1CD [64.02]
Recorded 8-10 June 2016, Church of St Augustine, Kilburn
Available from Amazon.

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