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GRAMOPHONE ( 04/ 2019)
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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan

Currently a Harewood Artist at English National Opera, with a win at The Grange Festival’s inaugural International Singing Competition under her belt, the young British soprano Rowan Pierce’s star is very much in the ascendant. A vivacious presence on stage, with a light, agile voice, Pierce should be a natural fit for the Purcell songs she records here in her solo debut, ‘The Cares of Lovers’.

But while the recital is prettily and neatly sung, it feels pre-emptive. There’s a sense of restriction – both in vocal tone and expressive inflection – that never quite relaxes or releases, and while Pierce’s feather-light instrument works well in an operatic ensemble cast, it doesn’t yet have the range to carry a whole disc.

Coy flirtation and innocent or arch romantic yearnings (‘She loves and she confesses too’, ‘Hears not my Phillis’, ‘Dear pretty youth’) suits her best, but even here the soprano fails to capture the delicate humour of which Purcell is such a master. Listen to Anne Sofie von Otter’s account of ‘Dear pretty youth’ (Archiv) and you’re left in no doubt of the sexual suggestion barely concealed beneath the sweet surface. Here it could be sung by a nun.

The extended dramatic monologues – ‘Tell me, some pitying angel’ and ‘From silent shades’ – lack scope and emotional stake, too often showing the limits rather than the strengths of the voice. Realisations by Richard Egarr and William Carter are exemplary, however, and the two instrumental Grounds offer a chance to hear them in the spotlight.

There’s nothing really wrong with this release but there’s also no call to arms in these polite, well-drilled performances of core repertoire. Even within Purcell’s output Pierce could have found many more interesting back streets to explore, as Anna Dennis recently demonstrated (Resonus, 3/19). As it is, in these familiar classics there’s just too much competition for these accounts to make their case.

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