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GRAMOPHONE (03/2021)
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Reviewer:  Alexandra Coghlan

Perhaps that’s why, with the exception of Come, ye sons of art and Welcome to all the pleasures, Purcell’s Odes and Welcome Songs are so comparatively neglected in the recording catalogue. In an age in which unfettered artistic inspiration is all, it’s hard to accept the diligent functionality of works designed to serve as much as delight.

And then there are the texts. There’s no getting away from the drum-pounding triumphalism of the poetry here in pieces that exhort Britons to ‘command the world’, exalting King James as ‘the glory of earth and the darling of heaven’. But ignore it (as Purcell frequently does) and you can enjoy some of the composer’s most attractive, compact settings. As one waggish satirist observed: ‘For where the Author’s scanty Words have fail’d, / Your happier Graces, Purcell, have prevail’d.’

Purcell composed these works throughout his professional life, but the selection here spans the short period from 1685’s Why, why are all the Muses mute? to Welcome, welcome glorious morn from 1691. It’s hard to imagine these performances bettered. This is music Robert King and The King’s Consort have recorded before, but there’s a sheen and poise to these new accounts – crisper, softer-edged, less obviously extrovert – that brings everything into focus.

It helps that King has assembled another crack team of singers who double as soloists and ensemble. The melting sweetness of Iestyn Davies’s ‘Britain, thou now art great’, the voice in an intricate dance in and among the ground bass, is a beguiling foil to Edward Grint’s soot-black ‘Accursed rebellion’ or, later, the rampant testosterone of the duet ‘Her hero to whose conduct’ by Grint and Matthew Brook. Only tenor Charles Daniels occasionally sounds strained, though still agile through the composer’s wriggling tenor arias.

The band is, if anything, even better. From Kati Debretzeni’s singing violin to Mark Williams’s stylish harpsichord and glorious trumpet-playing from Neil Brough and John Hutchins, this is achingly excellent playing – the opening Symphonies alone would be worth the price of the disc. I only hope King continues again through the whole set.



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