Monday 9 January 2023

Love Restor'd: Songs from the English Restoration

Love Restor'd: Songs from the English Restoration; Ceruleo; RESONUS CLASSICS
Love Restor'd: Songs from the English Restoration; Ceruleo; RESONUS CLASSICS
Reviewed 9 January 2023 (★★★★)

Rhythmically alert performances and a sense of drama in this selection of songs and instrumental music from late 17th-century England

Like most British groups specialising in Baroque music, Ceruleo has a long engagement with the music of Henry Purcell. This deepened when the group premiered Clare Norburn's musical play about Purcell, Burying the Dead in 2018 [see my review]. Directed by Thomas Guthrie this combined dramatic narrative (with actor Niall Ashdown) with Purcell's music performed by Ceruleo, and the group toured the piece during 2018 to 2020.

On this new disc, Love Restor'd from Resonus Classics, Ceruleo (sopranos Emily Owen and Jenni Harper, Toby Carr theorbo & Baroque guitar, Kate Conway viola da gamba, Satoko Doi-Luck harpsichord) perform Purcell's music alongside that of his contemporaries. Described as Songs from the English Restoration, the disc features songs by Purcell, Blow and Eccles, but also instrumental music by Purcell, Blow and Corbetta.

The idea behind the programme was to create the sort of mixed selection of music that you might have heard in the Restoration theatre. The music moves between solos, duets and instrumental pieces, with works both in English and in Latin, and the styles range from the light-hearted to the more serious, including amorous dalliances, a work written in memory of Queen Mary and mad song. The result is engagingly varied and reflects the variety and diversity of Restoration stage music rather better than a concentration on works from a single genre.

The pairings of works are sometimes straightforward and sometimes surprising. We open with a pair of light yet rhythmically alert songs that might both suggest the theatre, except Blow's 'Couch’d by the pleasant Helliconian spring' comes from an Ode for St Cecilia's Day, yet it partakes the same atmosphere as Purcell's 'Oh, the sweet delights of Love' from Dioclesian. A Purcell ground leads to a pair of items from The Fairy Queen, with 'O let me weep' making the atmosphere somewhat more melancholy.

Two numbers from Purcell's odes keep the mood serious, yet always rhythmically alert, hardly sober and certainly not sombre, first 'Crown the altar, deck the shrine' from Celebrate this Festival, and then 'Many such days may she behold' from Love’s Goddess Sure Was Blind. Then the mood turns sober indeed with Blow's Laudate Nomen Domini and The Queen's Epicedium, and Purcell's O dive custos, yet the music of Blow's Laudate is so perky that we still seem to be in the world of the theatre.

A Chaconne by Francesco Corbetta, one of the musicians who came to England on the Restoration leads to Purcell's She loves and she confesses, both works are intriguingly based on the idea of a repeating ground.

The final sequence interleaves theatre songs and instrumental numbers, with an emphasis on the swift changes of mood found in the genre known as the mad song. So we have Eccles' 'Haste give me wings' from The Fickle Shepherdess and Purcell's 'From rosy bow'rs' from Don Quixote plus suites by Blow and Purcell, along with the lovely duet 'No, resistance is but vain' from The Maid's Last Prayer. We end with the sweet melancholy of love in 'If love's a sweet passion' from The Fairy Queen.

Both Emily Owen and Jenni Harper have fine-grained silvery voices that bring clarity and expressiveness to the music. Both are adept at the swift changes of mood that the music often requires. Supported by the fine instrumental playing of Toby Carr, Kate Conway and Satoko Doi-Luck, the group feels more like a Baroque chamber ensemble than voices and accompaniment. Instrumental and vocal lines interweave, so that the purely instrumental numbers feel like a continuation of what has gone before.

A lovely disc, and an engaging introduction to the world of Restoration song.

Love Restor'd: Songs from the English Restoration - music by Henry Purcell (1659=1695), John Blow (1649-1708), Francesco Corbetta (1615-1681), John Eccles (1668-1735)
Ceruleo (Emily Owen soprano, Jenni Harper soprano, Toby Carr theorbo & Baroque guitar, Kate Conway viola da gamba, Satoko Doi-Luck harpsichord)
Recorded in St John's Church, Loughton, 6-8 January 2022

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