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GRAMOPHONE (03/2017)
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Challenge Classics

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Reviewer: Richard Lawrence

The novelty of the recording lies in the performers’ attempt to recapture ‘original pronunciation’. This is a risky venture with a cast composed almost entirely of singers whose native language is not English. Some of the changes are hard to detect. What’s clear, though, are the ‘missing rhymes’. ‘Revive’ matches ‘give’; wounds and bears are rhymed with hounds and appears. But it’s not consistent: ‘command’ is not rhymed with ‘land’, nor ‘gone’ with ‘shun’.

From a conceptual and presentational point of view this is all rather a muddle, but at bottom is a very decent performance of Purcell’s little masterpiece. The date of the first production isn’t known, but it surely wasn’t the 1680 of the booklet, which would make it earlier than the work on which it was modelled, Blow’s Venus and Adonis. The first recorded public performance was in 1700; in 1704 it was coupled with a masque called The Loves of Mars and Venus as afterpieces to a farce, and it is that occasion that this live recording seeks in part to recreate. So the Purcell is followed by nine short numbers by John Eccles and Gottfried or Godfrey Finger. They include the published songs from the Prologue to the masque, with ‘arrangements and additional compositions’ by Fabio Bonizzoni. No further details are given. The track list and the libretto repeat the date of 1680, which is clearly wrong, and nonsensically give Finger’s dates as 1685-1717. (These turn out to be the floruit dates in the 19th-century DNB, as repeated by Wikipedia.)

Bonizzoni conducts the single strings and the continuo players of La Risonanza, plus the 13-strong Costanzo Porta choir in a lively performance. ‘Fear no danger’, sung by Belinda with no Second Woman, goes with a swing, as do the dances and ritornellos. ‘Cupid only throws the dart’ is measured and solemn; if the Witches’ ‘Destruction’s our delight’ is possibly over‑shaped, the cackling that follows is definitely too much. Raffaella Milanesi and Stefanie True are more than acceptable as Dido and Belinda. I am less convinced by the men. Richard Helm’s tone is not always pleasing, and Iason Marmaras’s vivid Sorceress is bound to pall after a few hearings. Decent, as I say, but there’s better singing to be heard on the recording under a (relatively) restrained Réne Jacobs (Harmonia Mundi, 3/01).

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