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GRAMOPHONE (05/2015)
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Reviewer: David Vickers


The original play The Indian Queen (1664) was written by Dryden and his brother-in-law Sir Robert Howard; but in 1695 more than half of the old play was removed for Purcell’s biggest theatrical venture since The Fairy Queen. It was an ill-fated project, not least because Purcell died unexpectedly on November 21 (the eve of St Cecilia’s Day). The date of the first performance is unknown and no playbook was printed.


Andrew Pinnock’s expert synopsis and essay help listeners to make sense of the broad context of Purcell’s imaginative music, which includes the famous song ‘I attempt from love’s sickness to fly in vain’, sung without a trace of habit by Julie Cooper; its unusually relaxed pulse connects nicely with the following Rondeau. A fine scene for the magician Ismeron, praised by the historian Burney as ‘the best piece of recitative in our language’, is suavely done by Eamonn Dougan. The band play adroitly in a few curtain tunes and the Overture; trumpet tunes bookending the prologue are played with an attractive swagger by Robert Farley. High tenor Matthew Long dispatches Fame’s ‘Begone, curst fiends of Hell’ impressively. Kirsty Hopkins’s lovely performance of the Peruvian girl Orazia’s love song to the Mexican warrior Moctezuma (‘They tell us that your mighty powers above’) reminds us that it ranks among Purcell’s most rapturous operatic creations. There is not much for the collective chorus to do but they excel in the poignant solemn sacrificial scene in Act 5.


The convivial performance of younger brother Daniel Purcell’s The Masque of Hymen (probably added to the 1696 revival) requires no justification. I continue to be puzzled by Harry Christophers’s penchant for anachronistic harp continuo in repertoire where it doesn’t belong; but otherwise this is an engaging advocacy of Purcell’s final and seemingly incomplete opera.


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