Reviewed by John Irvine
As one critic put it, Purcell is not as boring as you might think. In fact, he is often referred to as Britain's greatest composer. In this age in which there is little to be proud of in our country, perhaps it is time to rediscover something of our musical heritage and take advantage of the 300th anniversary of Purcell's death in order to explore the wealth and diversity of his music, from the songs he wrote for the theatre, through his instrumental music, to the liturgical music written for the Anglican church which employed him as both a musician and as a composer. Purcell's church music is formal yet sincere, passionate yet respectful, inventive yet liturgically functional and correct. It is astounding that the King's Consort have in their journey of 11 CDs (and this is their last) brought to light so many previously unrecorded and presumably little played pieces. Purcell's music deserves a wider audience, and this series has shown that there is much to be discovered in Purcell's church and devotional music. Indeed often it is the lesser-known items which are the most startling of Purcell's compositions and most worthy of investigation. Volume 11 of this series is no exception here. The magnificent 16-minute composition "Praise The Lord, O My Soul" (Psalm 104) is an example of this. Knowing that he is in full command of his subject matter and the forces at his disposal, he takes his time in settling the text, opening with a strangely wistful 'symphony' or instrumental passage for strings, before the bass soloist enters with a part obviously written for a virtuoso. Purcell's mastery of colour, mood and texture in the music is amply demonstrated by the entry of a high tenor to contrast with the bass, and later by the entry of a full choir at strategic points in the text. To do justice to the music, Robert King has assembled the finest British musicians, soloists and choristers. The result is a performance unlikely to be bettered, a series of recordings unsurpassable in scope and execution and music brought alive in a fresh and vibrant way. Highly recommended.
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