There is no record of how Purcell's unprecedented youthful genius was received by his contemporaries, though it seems logical that it must have caused considerable wonder in the musical world centred around Westminster. The reality of London musical life was in fact difficult, frenetic, and grossly underfunded, and, along with the whole city, was thrown into confusion with the outbreak of the plague, the war with the Dutch and the catastrophic fire of London. Suffice it to say that a lifelong friendship developed with John Blow, who relinquished his post as organist at Westminster Abbey to the 20-year old Purcell in 1679.
Blow's music in the Ode on Purcell's death is probably the most coherent melodious and inventive, outside his beloved Church music. It is also his most Purcellian. The choice of two countertenor voices was fundamental in this respect, and this conscious evocation of the Purcellian sound world is extended in the use of the two recorders, stressing both the funerary and other-worldly associations of the instrument. With this collaboration in memory of Purcell however, he achieves the highest level of expression. Early death, in his time was an unremarkable commonplace, and Dryden and Blow are deploring something rather different, the catastrophe of losing a friend who represented both their own hopes, and the energy and potential of English music in full flood.
22nd October 2010
“The fluency of expression and rich tone of the countertenors Carlos Mena and Damien Guillon combine to bring animation and affection to John Blow’s Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell”
“the performances are lush, sensual without straying into anachronistic mannerisms of gimmickry...Carlos Mena and Damien Guillon, whose voices are wonderfully well matched, are both at their best in intimate chamber music and they clearly relish the by turns weaving and angular lines of Blow anmd Purcell.”
“Mena and Guillon both sound entirely at ease with Dryden's eloquent English and the musical moods to illustrate literary illusions are captured poignantly...the recorders blend sensitively with the voices and it is a breath of fresh air to hear the simple three-piece continuo team of viol, theorbo and keyboard keeping things simple, tasteful and stylish.”
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.