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GRAMOPHONE ( Awards 2021 - 11/2021)
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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan

For the second time in a career, 30 years since their last account, Robert King and The King’s Consort are working their way through Purcell’s odes. The first volume of this new set (3/21) established clear stylistic daylight between then and now, replacing the earlier, more obviously extrovert recording with greater clarity and detail. The second volume maintains the trend, continuing the sequence in stylish, affectionate performances, where ensemble rather than any individual is king.

This time we get three of the six of the Birthday Odes composed by Purcell for Queen Mary. The chronology of Odes II, IV and V may be tight – together they span just three years, 1690-93 – but the evolution of both form and forces is marked. The album is constructed to amplify this, sandwiching the intimate Love’s goddess sure was blind (scored for just strings and a pair of recorders) between the grander Arise, my Muse and Celebrate this festival, with its newly continuous flow of arias and choruses, and increasingly intricate counterpoint.

The blaze and rasp of Neil Brough and Adrian Woodward’s trumpets rolls out the musical red carpet for Arise, my Muse, their fanfares the bookend to the weeping phrases of two recorders in the closing ‘But ah, I see Eusebia drown’d in tears’. The instrumental colours are beautifully shaded, whether the self-satisfied, nasal oboes in ‘Happy realm, beyond expressing’, the trumpet challenging Matthew Brook’s bass in ‘While, for a righteous cause he arms’ or the Scottish ballad ‘Cold and raw’, heard heavy-footed in harpsichord at the start of ‘May her blest example chase’.

The singing is exemplary across the board but special mention must be made of tenor Charles Daniels – the only singer to span both recordings – whose ‘See how the glitt’ring ruler of the day’ has a lovely cool languor to its long phrases, crisply embellished. Elsewhere countertenors Iestyn Davies and Hugh Cutting blend seamlessly in ‘Hail, gracious Gloriana, hail’ and ‘Many such days may she behold’, and soprano Carolyn Sampson adds a lovely sheen to Celebrate this festival, joined by Emily Owen for the glossy duet ‘Britain, now thy cares beguile’. Bring on the next volume!

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