Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Sweeter than Roses: music of Purcell & his contemporaries from Anna Dennis & Sounds Baroque

Sweeter than Roses - Sounds Baroque - Resonus
Purcell, Corbetta, Lawes, Draghi; Anna Dennis, Sounds Baroque, Julian Perkins; Resonus Classics Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 February 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The songs of Purcell alongside music of his contemporaries in a striking programme

This new disc on Resonus Classics from soprano Anna Dennis and Sounds Baroque, director Julian Perkins, is based around a programme which we caught at Conway Hall in 2017 [see my review]. The centrepiece of the disc is a sequence of Purcell's songs, from Sweeter than Roses to In the black, dismal dungeon of despair from An evening hymn to How blest are shepherds from King Arthur. Alongside Purcell's music we have instrumental by Purcell's contemporaries, a guitar suite by Francesco Corbetta and a harpsichord suite by Giovanni Battista Draghi, and a pair of songs by Purcell's older contemporary Henry Lawes.

Julian Perkins' article in the booklet explains how the selection of material on the disc was made to bring out the sheer variety of Purcell's songs.
So here we have the simply beautiful, Sweeter than Roses and An evening hymn, with Anna Dennis' lovely sculptural approach to the vocal line, or the dramatic intensity of In the black dismal dungeon of despair and the narrative delight of On the brow of Richmond Hill. Dennis combines a surprisingly strong toned voice, with a fine sense of line and great feel for the words. When listening to the disc, you never feel the need to resort to the printed words. In songs like Of fair Cedaria Dennis brings out the remarkably rhapsodic nature of Purcell's writing.

Henry Lawes had had a career in the pre-Civil War court, and returned after the Restoration though he died in 1662. There seems a distinct sense of continuity between Lawes songs and those of Purcell. So we have No Reprieve, a striking piece full of plangent melancholy, and the finely lyrical A Lover's Legacy.

The fascinating thing about the musicians of Restoration London is that we can read about many of them in the  pages of Samuel Pepys' diary (available in handy on-line format). So Francesco Corbetta, one of the great guitar virtuosos of the age and Giovanni Battist Draghi both pop up in Pepys diaries.

Corbetta gets a brief mention in Pepy's diary entry for Monday 5 August 1667 - 'After done with the Duke of York, and coming out through his dressing-room, I there spied Signor Francisco tuning his gittar, and Monsieur de Puy with him, who did make him play to me, which he did most admirably — so well as I was mightily troubled that all that pains should have been taken upon so bad an instrument'

Draghi pops up three times in the diary, the first on 2 November 1666 when he is referred to as 'the King’s Italian here is about setting three parts for trumpets, and shall teach some to sound them, and believes they will be admirable musique' then on 12 February 1667 we learn he is writing 'a play in Italian for opera ... He himself is the poet as well as the musician'.

 On this disc we have a suite for Baroque guitar by Corbetta, four movements in dance-based forms, and Draghi's suite for harpsichord, again a sequence of dance based movements. Besides providing punctuation, they also give a fascinating insight into the other music around London.

There is a strength and a vibrancy to these performances that I enjoyed, and Anna Dennis gives a striking performance which is well away from a light skimming over the surface. She is well supported by Julian Perkins and Sounds Baroque, and my only cavil is the rather strong resonance which surrounds the voices and instruments.

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) - Sweeter than roses, Z. 585/1
Henry Purcell - Cupid, the slyest rogue alive, Z. 367
Henry Purcell - On the brow of Richmond Hill, Z. 405
Henry Purcell - She loves and she confesses too, Z. 413
Henry Lawes (1596-1662) - No Reprieve
Henry Lawes - A Lover's Legacy
Francesco Corbetta (1615-1681) - Suite in C major
Henry Purcell - Urge me no more, Z. 426
Henry Purcell - In the black, dismal dungeon of despair, Z. 190
Henry Purcell - Now that the sun hath veil’d his light (An Evening Hymn), Z. 193
Giovanni Battista Draghi (1640-1708)- Suite in E minor
Henry Purcell - Love arms himself in Celia’s eyes, Z. 392
Henry Purcell - Celia’s fond, too long I’ve lov’d her, Z. 364
Henry Purcell - I came, I saw, and was undone (The Thraldom), Z. 375
Henry Purcell - Oh! fair Cedaria, hide those eyes, Z. 402
Henry Purcell - How blest are shepherds (from King Arthur, Z. 628)
Anna Dennis (soprano)
Sounds Baroque (James Akers: theorbo & baroque guitar, Henrik Persson: viola da gamba, Julian Perkins: director, harpsichord, spinet & organ)
Recorded at Trafalgar Park, Salisbury, 21-23 January 2018
RESONUS CLASSICS RES10235 1CD [67.33]
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Sung Poetry: Kitty Whately & Simon Lepper - From the Pens of Women (★★) - concert review
  • Choral music for Advent and Christmas from Portsmouth  - CD review
  • Love songs in Temple Church: Brahms and Schumann for Valentine's Day (★★★½) - concert review
  • An obsession with Norse myths: composer Gavin Higgins introduces his new opera The Monstrous Child  - interview
  • Delightful harmonies: Carl Czerny's arrangement of Beethoven's Septet (★★) - concert review
  • Verdi in Oman: La traviata at the Royal Opera House, Muscat (★★) - opera review
  • Youth shines: Savitri Grier in Elgar's Violin Concerto - concert review
  • From play to opera: Marlowe's Edward II and Benjamin & Crimp's Lessons in Love & Violence - feature article 
  • A romantic at heart: I chat to violinist Sarah Chang about her forthcoming Cadogan Hall recital - interview
  • A jolly good show: Verdi's Un ballo in maschera at Welsh National Opera  (★★) - opera review
  • From the Pens of Women: Kitty Whately on her forthcoming Wigmore Hall recital & the challenges of bringing music by women composers to the fore - interview
  • Home

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