Gramophone magazine ‘Editor’s Choice’ in July 1995.
2009 is the 350th anniversary of Purcell’s birth, and his music will be the focus of much attention in the media and in live performance.
Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort are supreme in this repertoire.
Purcell was not just a creature of the theatre – his genius with the human voice extended to secular songs and Odes for Queen Mary. Less familiar are his sacred songs. Although some appeared in John Playford’s Harmonia Sacra of 1688 and 1693, many remained in manuscript and known only to a select few. There is some credence to the thought that Purcell intended them for an elite group. The choice of text is fastidious, and probably points towards a discerning friend in the court musical circles. For example, the metaphysical poets were out of fashion at this time, but whoever Purcell’s intended audience was, such poets remained a firm favourite for the composer. Other texts are by his contemporaries at court, lavished with as much care and attention as the settings from the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. The settings are scored for small forces – one to two voices, accompanied by continuo. The emotional range, however, is huge, with contemplative and introspective songs rubbing shoulders with numbers such as ‘O, I’m sick of life’, where the singer rails against a cruel avenging God. In the setting ‘In guilty night’ or ‘Saul and the Witch of Endor’, you can sense the world of opera is never far away. This recording intersperses the sacred songs with organ works – Purcell was one of the most brilliant organists of his day, but surprisingly he only left about six works for the instrument.
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.