Reviewed by John Irvine
Henry Purcell was one of England's finest composers, doing more for posterity in 36 brief years than most people achieve in much longer lifespans. In 1679 the young Purcell became organist at Westminster Abbey and as part of the job had to compose new music almost weekly for the normal services of the Abbey and for special occasions. His speed of composition was so remarkable that within five years he had produced nearly 100 anthems, services and other sacred works as well as an incredible volume of work for the theatre and chamber works. Impressively, all of this music was remarkably original and of an exceedingly high standard. Although a fair number of Purcell's works are still regular items in the services of English cathedrals, the majority of his output for church worship is seldom heard. The King's Consort - made up of Britain's finest singers and period-musicians - have dedicated themselves to performing and recording all of Purcell's church music over a period of five years. As Robert King, the music director, puts it: "This is wonderful music of the highest quality that deserves to be heard far more often than it is." Volume 9 of this ongoing series contains several early works of Purcell, demonstrating that his gifts of setting scripture to music in a colourful, original and dramatic way were almost fully developed early in Purcell's brief career. "Blessed Be The Lord My Strength" is an absolute gem, for example, with a bass soloist nobly expressing faith in God joined by a pair of tenors to examine God's great grace shown to man. The recording also contains first recordings of several of Purcell's anthems, including the magnificent "The Lord Is My Light". The highlight of the disc is the final track "In Guilty Night", the story of Saul and the witch of Endor. It is unique amongst Purcell's sacred music, fitting into no single category, combining elements of the devotional song, the cantata and the oratorio. It is both dramatic and entertaining. As expected, the recording is up to Hyperion's high standard and the soloists, particularly Michael George (bass), outstanding. An excellent addition to this indispensable series of recordings.
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