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Many of Purcell’s songs and dance tunes are such ‘standards’ that there really is no need to worry about a ‘right’ way to perform them, provided that singers are prepared to love the line and words, and players are willing to make a dance dance. Happily, both conditions are met by the performers on this disc, and, having got that settled, they allow themselves to make play with the music in a free-selecting programme driven purely by musical concerns. This is Purcell without much in the way of ‘historical’ context, so that the only thing the listener needs to worry about is to sit back and let this composer’s life-enhancing genius wash over them. And with music ranging from the high art of ‘O Solitude, my sweetest choice’ and ‘’Tis nature’s voice’ to the heart-stopping simple beauty of ‘Fairest Isle’ and foot-tapping dance tunes plucked from the Restoration stage, genius there is in plenty.
The vocal numbers are sung by Tim Mead, a top-class English countertenor of the kind that could have been made for this music, notwithstanding that not everything here was written for his voice-type. His singing radiates rich colour, smooth lyricism and exquisite musicality, and alone would be enough to make this disc treasurable. Yet the most striking aspect of these performances undoubtedly lies in the instrumental music as served up by Les Musiciens de Saint-Julien, which is full of life and colour. Given that director François Lazarevitch is a recorder player, it is perhaps fair to expect that instrument to feature more than it might elsewhere (for instance in the Fantazia upon a Ground), and neither is it surprising that the ornamentation often lends the music a French accent; but the sheer rhythmic flair and Celtic-flavoured folksiness with which they deliver so many of the dances is also enhanced in places by the rasp of a musette or jangle of a cittern. The recording is clear and full-bodied, though with an irritatingly abrupt fade-up at the very start. But never mind, this disc is a hugely enjoyable Purcellian celebration.
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