A Purcell Collection

£12.00

An invitation to stroll through the world of one of England’s greatest composers

The young, virtuoso A Cappella ensemble VOCES8 return to disc on Signum with a sumptuous collection of early works by Henry Purcell. Joined by the specialist early-music ensemble ‘Les Inventions’, the group explores Purcell’s astoundingly diverse output – there is hardly a genre in which he did not express himself: anthems, odes, funeral music, semi- operas, masques, sonatas, consort-music, songs and catches populate his extraordinarily multifaceted œuvre. It is this astonishing diversity that we wish to celebrate by inviting the listener for a stroll through the world of one of England’s greatest composers.

SKU: SIGCD375

What people are saying

"If anyone ever doubts Purcell’s consummate genius, this CD – beautifully recorded and executed – ought to convince them. A great introduction to Purcell’s many guises." Choir and Organ, July 2014

"… you won’t hear Purcell sung better" Planet Hugill

"Even if you have most of Purcell’s music on disc in your collection you should not miss this ‘sampler’. It includes some of the finest performances I have heard in recent years. I strongly hope that these two ensembles will further delve into Purcell’s oeuvre and make us happy with more recordings … the quality of this disc make me nominate it as Recording of the Month." Muisicweb International, June 2014

"This is a lovely collection, reflective of the composer’s eclectic talents, and beautifully performed." Early Music Review, June 2014

VOCES8

Les Inventions

Release date:7th Apr 2014
Order code:SIGCD375
Barcode: 635212037522

This ‘perambulation’, as the liner described it, could hardly fail: eight beautifully integrated solo voices and the stylish strings, oboes, recorders and continuo of Les Inventions cherry-pick 14 pieces from the best of Purcell. The selection, if fairly predictable, ranges from the large-scale – the anthem My Heart is Inditing, rich in dissonant ‘English’ cadences and spine-tingling wrong-note harmonies – to the ‘Cold Song’ from King Arthur, bass and strings shivering with vibrato on stuttering repeated notes. A more sophisticated wit characterises the final ‘Alleluia’ of Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem, opening in a weighty 3/4 time and gradually morphing into a lively 6/8 as it dances to its final cadence.

Two numbers from Birthday Odes include Purcell’s favourite device, the ground bass, recurring hypnotically while unimaginable variations unfold above. ‘Strike the viol’ (Come ye Sons of Art) is a staggering, demonstration of how much variety can be supported by a four-note bass repeated for four minutes on end. The lesser-known ‘By Beauteous Softness’ from a birthday Ode for Queen Mary, includes a haunting countertenor solo again above a ‘ground’, but now the vocal phrasing wilfully ignores the regular seven-bar repeated bass. But every number here has something particularly arresting within it, all supported by persuasive and committed singing, and playing of intense charm. Recorded sound, though stereo only, envelops the performers in the spacious warming acoustic of a French church.

BBC Music Magazine, 5 Stars Recording and Performance, September 2014

Patrick Ayrton, the director of Les Inventions, describes this as ‘an invitation to stroll through the world of one of England’s greatest composers’. Well, perhaps a couple of continents. As Ayrton himself notes, the output of few composers is as diverse as Purcell’s, and we are here concerned largely with sacred and secular choral music. The stroll turns out to be most agreeable, with many moments to savour along the way. The performances at times touch excellence and, with one arguable exception, are never less than very good. The exception is the famous ‘Cold Song’ from King Arthur, given with too much imposed artifice; the song is striking enough without trying to overlay it further. Voces8 are at their best in more homophonic music, producing admirably balanced performances of considerable breadth and richness in the anthem Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem, Z.46 (which, contrary to the impression given in the booklet, is performed complete) and ‘Behold, O mightiest of Gods’from Dioclesian. The stile antico counterpoint of the eight-part anthem O God, Thou Art my God is projected less satisfactorily, the performance not quite entirely avoiding a certain English blandness. This is probably not a disc for those already familiar with the composer, but it would make for an ideal introduction to at least a part of his world. 

Early Music Today, September 2014

This disc is a bit of a hotch-potch, though none the less enjoyable for that. It covers pretty much all the genres in which Purcell wrote: sacred works sit cheek by jowl with theatre music. Famous excerpts from Dido and Aeneas (‘To the Hills and the Vales’) and King Arthur (the erotic-sounding Act IV, Lully-influenced passacaglia ‘How happy the lover: the song for the Cold Genius and ‘Fairest Isle’) and the Ode to St Cecilia are included alongside equally well-known items from Purcell’s church music such as the Funeral Music for Queen Mary. What completely lifts this CD out ofthe ordinary, making it stand head and shoulders above other similar collections, is the commitment and expertise brought to this glorious music byVOCES8 and Les Inventions under the artistic direction of Patrick Ayrton and Barnaby Smith. If anyone ever doubts Purcell’s consummate genius, this CD – beautifully recorded and executed – ought to convince them. A great introduction to Purcell’s many guises. 

Philip Reed, Choir and Organ

Voces8 here make use of their intermediate size – neither a choir nor strictly a one-to-a-part ensemble – to bring together what would normally be an unlikely PurceIl vocal anthology of church anthems inter-strewn with choruses and solo numbers from the stage works and court odes. Their vocal blend and solid ensemble have been praised before, and rightly too; here they score well in more intimate unaccompanied choral pieces (‘O God, thou art my God’ or ‘Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts’) and

in theatre choruses from Dido and Aeneas, Dioclesian and The Tempest. But while in bigger, orchestrally accompanied pieces such as ‘Praise the Lord, O Jerusaum’ and ‘My heart is inditing’ there are gains in agility and contrapuntal clarity (always a plus in PurceIl), there are losses in grandeur and weight compared to performances by large groups; ‘My heart is inditing’, an eight-part piece, also suffers from palely defined textural contrasts.

The group’s individual voices are equal to their tasks in the solo numbers, if not always as characterful as might be expected from singers more used to standing out front. Emily Dickens’s ‘Bid the graces’ from ‘Come, ye sons of art’ is poised and lofty (if slightly lisped), while countertenor Bamaby Smith’s two numbers include a rollingly assertive version of the too-often dirge-like ‘Strike the viol’, joyfully ornamented in its orchestral refrain by the stylish strings and recorders of the French ensemble Les Inventions.

There are times when I feel that interpretative tricks are missed – the deceptively plain but ardent word-setting of ‘O God, thou art my God’ is carelessly run through, while the heart-stopping simplicity of ‘Fairest isle’ does not gain anything by being heavily ornamented almost from the start – but there is no doubting that this disc still offers a rich and enjoyable demonstration of Purcell’s genius. 

Lindsay Kemp, Gramophone, July 2014

This CD very much "does what is says on the tin" – it promises a "stroll through the world of one of England’s greatest composers" and that is what we get. Anthems alternate with songs and choruses from operas and odes in a rich demonstration of Purcell’s extraordinary versatility. Although this "bleeding chunks" approach to early repertoire has become deeply unfashionable, it definitely has its merits, and when the music is as well sung and played as it is here, it needs no apology. The opening coronation anthem "Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem" with its portentous instrumental introduction is particularly impressive, but there is also some exquisite solo singing, most strikingly from alto Barnaby Smith, and the instrumental contributions are consistently beautiful, with tasteful phrasing and subtle and expressive ornamentation. The chilly accompaniment to the "Cold Song" from King Arthur is original and memorable, while "Strike the Viol" from Come, ye sons of Art fairly dances along with its infectious strumming accompaniment. One of my favourite tracks is Andrea Haines’ account of "Fairest Isle" from King Arthur in which the strophic structure allows for some delicious ornamentation and some subtle flirting with inégal phrasing. This is a lovely collection, reflective of the composer’s eclectic talents, and beautifully performed.

Early Music Review, D. James Ross, June 2014

Henry Purcell is not exactly what musicologists sometimes call a ‘minor master’. On the contrary, his music is almost unanimously admired and frequently performed and recorded. In his liner-notes Patrick Ayrton rightly compares him with Johann Sebastian Bach, and one could add some other composers of the same stature, such as Monteverdi or Charpentier. A critic once said that he had never heard a bad note from Purcell, and it is not difficult to agree. That makes a disc like the present one a little superfluous. The rear inlay says that it is "an invitation to stroll through the world of one of England’s greatest composers". Is that really necessary, considering Purcell’s sizeable discography?

In a concept like this it is inevitable that several excerpts from larger pieces are included. I have to admit that I don’t like this. The isolation of single pieces from a larger work is often unsatisfactory. This disc includes a particularly telling example: the ‘Cold Song’ from King Arthur. It is quite effective if performed as part of the whole, but without its context it makes much less sense. Moreover, if performances are good – as these are – one is disappointed not to hear the whole piece.

One of the highlights is My heart is inditing, amongst his best-known compositions, and a masterpiece. The opening sinfonia bears witness to the French influence: the slow first section with its dotted rhythms reminds us of the overtures from Lully’s operas, when the king entered the theatre. This connection makes much sense as this anthem was written for the coronation of James II in 1685. Here we hear the instrumental ensemble Les Inventions in its full glory. Voces8 gives a very fine performance of the vocal parts. The voices blend beautifully, and thanks to the minimal vibrato the harmonic peculiarities come off perfectly. It also results in a high degree of transparency. The solo episodes are nicely sung.

Some of them show their qualities in the solo pieces: Barnaby Smith is especially impressive in ‘Strike the viol’, although the tempo of this song is probably a little too fast. Andrea Haines makes the best of ‘Fairest Isle’, one of Purcell’s most famous airs, and often sung as an encore. Over the years I have heard many disappointing or even horrible performances, marred by wide vibrato. Ms Haines’ performance has a kind of naïveté which is spot-on. The ritornello between the first and the second stanza is another highlight, especially thanks to the beautiful ornamentation of first violinist Shunske Sato. Dingle Yandell does well in the ‘Cold Song’, but I wonder whether the interpretation is a shade too emphatic. Maybe a more restrained and subtle approach would make a stronger impression. However, as I indicated above, it is not easy to perform such a piece out of its context.

The funeral anthem Thou knowest, Lord is one of the most beautiful and moving pieces ever written. It is interesting that it is performed here as the last part of the Burial Music by Thomas Morley. Purcell’s anthem replaces the missing last section. It remains pretty close to the style of Morley, but Purcell adds his own mark in his treatment of harmony. Voces8 shows that it is well suited to earlier music as Morley’s setting gets a very good performance. Purcell’s motet makes a lasting impression in this performance.

Even if you have most of Purcell’s music on disc in your collection you should not miss this ‘sampler’. It includes some of the finest performances I have heard in recent years. I strongly hope that these two ensembles will further delve into Purcell’s oeuvre and make us happy with more recordings. Even though I don’t like performances of excerpts from larger works, the quality of this disc make me nominate it as Recording of the Month.

 

Musicweb International, Johan van Veen

Award-winning a cappella ensemble Voces8 have released ten albums in the decade since they formed, ranging from early English and European Renaissance choral works to their own arrangements. Their first album for Decca, Eventide, a selection of songs from Tallis to Kate Rusby and Emeli Sandé designed for ‘reflection and repose’, came out in February 2014 but their latest release is on the small, innovative Signum label.

That said, there’s nothing remotely innovative about this well-chosen collection of Purcell hits, pleasantly performed by Voces8 and Les Inventions, an early-music ensemble based in France and led by keyboard player Patrick Ayrton. If you know Purcell only as England’s first opera composer (Dido and Aeneas) or anthem-writer for royal occasions, this album is a good introduction to the richness and diversity of his output. It includes anthems, catches and choruses from Odes and Dido and Aeneas and hits from the colourful masque King Arthur – not only ‘Fairest Isle’, that wistful hymn to rural England, but also ‘How Happy the Lover’ in which Andrea Haines’s pretty fluting soprano extols the pleasures of love, and the ‘Cold Song’, where jagged, slashing strings can’t quite disguise the fact that Dingle Yandell’s fresh bass lacks the heft and hoariness for the ancient Genie of the Isle.

If you like gutsy, characterful interpretations of Purcell, look elsewhere (Emmanuelle Haïm and her Concert d’Astrée, for instance). The anthems here are blended and even, voices float on top of the instruments: the men sound like young swains with their Dresden shepherdesses while the strings, oboes, recorders and continuo are mellifluous and polite. The spacious acoustic adds to this sense of distance: perhaps a more focused recording would have brought out more of the character of these accomplished musicians.

Sinfini Music, Amanda Holloway

Henry Purcell is not exactly what musicologists sometimes call a ‘minor master’. On the contrary, his music is almost unanimously admired and frequently performed and recorded. In his liner-notes Patrick Ayrton rightly compares him with Johann Sebastian Bach, and one could add some other composers of the same stature, such as Monteverdi or Charpentier. A critic once said that he had never heard a bad note from Purcell, and it is not difficult to agree. That makes a disc like the present one a little superfluous. The rear inlay says that it is "an invitation to stroll through the world of one of England’s greatest composers". Is that really necessary, considering Purcell’s sizeable discography?

In a concept like this it is inevitable that several excerpts from larger pieces are included. I have to admit that I don’t like this. The isolation of single pieces from a larger work is often unsatisfactory. This disc includes a particularly telling example: the ‘Cold Song’ from King Arthur. It is quite effective if performed as part of the whole, but without its context it makes much less sense. Moreover, if performances are good – as these are – one is disappointed not to hear the whole piece.

One of the highlights is My heart is inditing, amongst his best-known compositions, and a masterpiece. The opening sinfonia bears witness to the French influence: the slow first section with its dotted rhythms reminds us of the overtures from Lully’s operas, when the king entered the theatre. This connection makes much sense as this anthem was written for the coronation of James II in 1685. Here we hear the instrumental ensemble Les Inventions in its full glory. Voces8 gives a very fine performance of the vocal parts. The voices blend beautifully, and thanks to the minimal vibrato the harmonic peculiarities come off perfectly. It also results in a high degree of transparency. The solo episodes are nicely sung.

Some of them show their qualities in the solo pieces: Barnaby Smith is especially impressive in ‘Strike the viol’, although the tempo of this song is probably a little too fast. Andrea Haines makes the best of ‘Fairest Isle’, one of Purcell’s most famous airs, and often sung as an encore. Over the years I have heard many disappointing or even horrible performances, marred by wide vibrato. Ms Haines’ performance has a kind of naïveté which is spot-on. The ritornello between the first and the second stanza is another highlight, especially thanks to the beautiful ornamentation of first violinist Shunske Sato. Dingle Yandell does well in the ‘Cold Song’, but I wonder whether the interpretation is a shade too emphatic. Maybe a more restrained and subtle approach would make a stronger impression. However, as I indicated above, it is not easy to perform such a piece out of its context.

The funeral anthem Thou knowest, Lord is one of the most beautiful and moving pieces ever written. It is interesting that it is performed here as the last part of the Burial Music by Thomas Morley. Purcell’s anthem replaces the missing last section. It remains pretty close to the style of Morley, but Purcell adds his own mark in his treatment of harmony. Voces8 shows that it is well suited to earlier music as Morley’s setting gets a very good performance. Purcell’s motet makes a lasting impression in this performance.

Even if you have most of Purcell’s music on disc in your collection you should not miss this ‘sampler’. It includes some of the finest performances I have heard in recent years. I strongly hope that these two ensembles will further delve into Purcell’s oeuvre and make us happy with more recordings. Even though I don’t like performances of excerpts from larger works, the quality of this disc make me nominate it as Recording of the Month.

Johan van Veen, MusicWeb Int.

Voces8 bring their distinctive musicianship to bear on a selection of Purcell’s major works

For this new disc from vocal ensemble Voces8 on the Signum Classics label, the group is joined by French period instrument ensemble Les Inventions for A Purcell Collection, described as ‘An invitation to stroll through the world of one of England’s greatest composers’. The disc includes a wide variety of items from anthems and opera choruses to welcome songs and odes with most items being selected from longer works.

Voces8 is an eight-voice ensemble generally singing one voice to a part. On this disc they are Andrea Harris and Emily Dickens (sopranos), Christopher Wardle and Barnaby Smith (counter-tenors), Oliver Vincent and Samuel Dressel (tenors), Paul Smith and Dingle Yandell (basses). They bring a superb musicianship to bear on works which might often be associated with a larger group of singers.

To enjoy this disc you have to be comfortable with three basic premises. That most of the works in the disc are excerpted from larger pieces, that the music is all performed as by a vocal consort rather than larger choir, and that the voices are relatively closely recorded so that there is not much space around the voices. There is no conductor, Patrick Ayrton (of Les Inventions) and Barnaby Smith (of Voces8) are billed as joint artistic directors.

They open with Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem an anthem composed for the coronation of William and Mary in 1689. Both voices and instruments make a good strong straight sound with a fine feel for Purcell’s music. The final chorus is crisply vigorous with a great low bass. To the Hills and the Vales comes from Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. This is a performance you really feel you could dance to, with good words and some lively articulation in both voices and instruments.

By Beauteous Softness Mix’d with Majesty is an except from the birthday ode for Queen Mary, Now Does the Glorious Day Appear, of 1689. It features a poised solo from counter-tenor Barnaby Smith. It made me wish that we could have heard more of the ode. The early unaccompanied anthem O God, Though Art my God  dates from 1680 and Voces8 perform it in beautiful, well modulated tones, with fine balance and good attention to the words.

We move back to the opera house for How Happy the Lover from King Arthur (1691). The piece starts with a lovely stylish passacaglia, full of long instrumental lines and dancing rhythms. The voices bring in a similar rhythmic bounce and there is a fine trio of soloists in Andrea Haines, Samuel Dressel and Dingle Yandell. Though I did wonder whether there might be a bit too much surface polish and that a little roughness might have been welcome. The Cold Song also comes from King Arthur. The piece features Dingle Yandell’s vivid bass solo, but performance from soloist and ensemble is stylised to the point of exaggeration and it is a shame we did not get the chorus which follows the solo.

Behold, O Mightiest of Gods is a short chorus from another semi-opera Doclesian (1690), sung with vibrantly full voices. My Heart is Inditing of a Good Matter was written for the coronation of King James II in 1685. Writing for eight-part chorus and orchestra, Purcell would almost certainly have expected rather more voices than the eight performing it here. But we are treated to a lovely long dancing prelude, followed by an infectious combination of voices and instruments. By far the longest item on the disc, the performance is vital and vivid though the consort style performance perhaps robs the work of some of its grandeur.

Bid the Virtues is an air from Come ye Sons of Art, Away which is the last of the birthday odes Purcell composed for Queen Mary. It was written in 1694, the year she died of smallpox, and is an air for solo soprano (Emily Dickens) where she duets with a lovely mellow oboe solo. Entirely lovely.

Hail Bright Cecilia is from Purcell’s 1692 Ode to St. Cecilia and features a lovely dark voiced bass solo. There are some nice shapely details, but I would have perhaps like a little more bounce in the vocal lines. In Strike the Viol from Come Ye Sons of Art counter-tenor Barnaby Smith gives us a lovely lyric line with a nice sense of the words. The performance as a whole is rather catchy with both instruments and voices very infectious.

For the Second Dirge Anthem which was performed at the funeral of Queen Mary in 1695, Purcell seems to have had to replace the lost final part of Thomas Morley’s setting. So here we start with Morley and finish with Henry Purcell. The results are poised and beautiful with some simply fabulous singing.

Fairest Isle from King Arthur is given a lovely fine grained and expressive performance by soprano Andrea Haines. Finally the posed Full Fathom Five from the 1695 production of The Tempest.

The booklet includes and informative article on the music plus full texts.

I have to confess that much though I enjoyed the performances on this disc, the relatively close recorded sound with a very clear sense of the vocal consort kept niggling me though it might not bother other people so much. And I would have far rather heard fewer, longer works. 

But there is much to enjoy on this disc, with some very fine musicianship indeed. The disc works because the members of Voces8 do what they do to a very high standard. The disc will certainly appeal to admirers of Voces8, but for those simply wanting a selection of Purcell’s choral music, the listener should be aware of the very distinct qualities which the vocal ensemble brings to this repertoire but you won’t hear Purcell sung better.

Planet Hugill, Robert Hugill, 4 STARS

Choice for the Curious "Those of a curious disposition would be well advised here. If you enjoyed Eventide from VOCES8 then certainly give this a try." 

 

David Mellor, Classic FM

  1. Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem – Henry Purcell – 7.25
  2. To the Hills and the Vales – Henry Purcell – 2.30
  3. By Beauteous Softness Mix’d with Majesty – Henry Purcell – 3.34
  4. O God, Thou Art my God – Henry Purcell – 3.51
  5. How Happy the Lover – Henry Purcell – 6.19
  6. ‘Cold Song’ (What Power Art Thou…) – Henry Purcell – 4.26
  7. Behold, O Mightiest of Gods – Henry Purcell – 3.22
  8. My Heart is Inditing of a Good Matter – Henry Purcell – 15.03
  9. Bid the Virtues – Henry Purcell – 3.17
  10. Hail! Bright Cecilia – Henry Purcell – 4.20
  11. Strike the Viol – Henry Purcell – 3.55
  12. Second Dirge Anthem (Morley) / Thou Knowest, Lord, the Secrets of Our Hearts – Henry Purcell / Thomas Morley – 5.09
  13. Fairest Isle – Henry Purcell – 4.40
  14. Full Fathom Five – Henry Purcell – 2.24