Wednesday 6 October 2021

A fine way to celebrate a birthday: Robert King and the Kings Consort return to Purcell's odes with three for Queen Mary's birthday

Henry Purcell Birthday Odes for Queen Mary; The King's Consort, Robert King; Vivat

Henry Purcell Birthday Odes for Queen Mary; The King's Consort, Robert King; Vivat

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 October 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
30 years of performing Purcell's odes has deepened King's approach, yet here with have three of Queen Mary's Birthday presents performed in vividly engaging and stylish fashion

Robert King and the King's Consort are continuing their re-exploration of Purcell's odes, returning to works that King and his ensemble first recorded 30 years ago. On this disc, from Vivat, Robert King directs The King's Consort in Purcell's birthday odes for Queen Mary, Arise, my Muse Z320, Love's goddess sure was blind Z331, Celebrate this festival Z321. The singers are Carolyn Sampson and Emily Owen sopranos, Iestyn Davies and Hugh Cutting countertenors, Charles Daniels and David de Winter tenors, and Matthew Brook and Edward Grint (basses), with the eight singers forming the ensemble and sharing the solos, and the instrumentalists led by Kati Debretzeni.

Henry Purcell seems to have had relatively warm relationship with Queen Mary and his six birthday odes for her form a striking group amongst his two dozen odes. King has already recorded two of the birthday odes on the previous disc [see my review] and here we have the odes for 1690, 1692 and 1693.

Queen Mary painted in 1677 by Peter Lely
Queen Mary painted in 1677 by Peter Lely
We begin with Arise, my Muse from 1690 which starts in grand fashion with a fine symphony followed David de Winter in elegant form in the high tenor solo 'Arise, my muse'. This leads into the first chorus which brings out a difference between these recordings and those of 30 years ago, the choruses are sung by the eight soloists in vivid fashion with no separate choir. Then comes Charles Daniel in the tenor solo 'See how the glitt'ring ruler of the day', and Daniel is as elegant and stylish as ever despite actually singing on those discs 30 years ago! This ode provides an interesting mix of solo moments, a short duet for tenor and bass (Charles Daniels and Edward Grint) a fine alto duet (Iestyn Davies and Hugh Cutting), a striking bass solo (Edward Grint in superb voice), a trio and a closing chorus with tenor (David de Winter) and bass (Matthew Brook) solos. So no soprano solos, presumably the boys were not up to it that year, and it seems as if ensemble numbers are of greatest interest. But that is to ignore Purcell's genius, so that he can draw profound emotion from apparently small things such as the high tenor solo at the beginning of the final number, and throughout short moments stand out profoundly. And it is here that having such an experienced cast tells, everyone is well able to step out and sing in an emotional, stylish manner, highlighting the profundity of Purcell's music, and then step back into the ensemble again.

Love's goddess sure was blind dates from the same year as The Fairy Queen and as Robert King's engaging booklet note points out, Purcell surely must have been frantic. Yet here we have a symphony rich with musical incident and fine rich textures. An alto solo starts things off, Iestyn Davies in fine form, and each verse is then taken by a different line-up, bass (Matthew Brook in fine form), alto and high tenor duet (Iestyn Davies and David de Winter blending and contrasting beautifully), soprano (Carolyn Sampson in delightful form singing 'Long may she reign'), a vigorous tenor from Charles Daniel, and an alto duet before the final chorus with all four soloists which has some moments of beautiful profundity. The result is a more reflective ode than some, and one which gives Purcell chance to shine on a smaller, less grand scale, creating music of great sophistication in the knowledge that the recipient would appreciate it.

The final work on the disc is Celebrate this festival from 1693, and here we are back to grandeur but Purcell rather cheats. The overture comes from Hail Bright Cecilia, yet the opening number is on an equally grand scale with a vividly florid soprano duet (Carolyn Sampson and Emily Owen) leading to a male trio (Iestyn Davies, Charles Daniel, Edward Grint) and then a chorus, all based around two lines of text, showing the way Purcell could make something out of almost nothing. The whole work is on expansive scale, the next sequence moves from soprano duet to a pair of soprano solos (both Carolyn Sampson), one where she duets stylishly with the trumpet in striking fashion. There is a clear sense here of Purcell thinking in larger arcs than just aria then chorus. The central section features alto solo, bass solo, alto solo, high tenor solo, trio (alto, tenor, bass) giving us another sense of larger construction. And with performances as engaging as these from Iestyn Davies, Matthew Brook, David de Winter and Charles Daniel, there is lots to appreciate. As if that wasn't enough, we continue with a further trumpet duet (Matthew Brook and Neil Brough), a further high tenor solo follows this time with lovely echo effects. Clearly whoever sang the high tenor solos that year was on great form! We end in engaging fashion with soprano and chorus dancing their way out. This is a terrific piece, showing Purcell responding to the grandeur of the occasion with suitably expansive yet highly imaginative music. If Queen Mary had not died in 1694 with Purcell following in 1695, you wonder what further wonders he might have achieved.

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) - Arise, my Muse Z320 (1690)
Henry Purcell - Love's goddess sure was blind Z331 (1692)
Henry Purcell  - Celebrate this festival Z321 (1693)
The King's Consort (Carolyn Sampson, Emily Owen, Iestyn Davies, Hugh Cutting, David de Winter, Charles Daniel, Matthew Brook, Edward Grint)
Record at Fairfield Halls, Croydon, 8-10 April 2021
VIVAT 122 1CD [77.10]

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