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Fanfare Magazine: 22:1 (09-10/1998)
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Harmonia Mundi
HMG 508462.63

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Reviewer: Brian Robins

Odes for Saint Cecili's Day

Purcell is unfamiliar territory for Herreweghe, and it shows. The basic problem with this less than convincing foray into the two finest Cecilian odes is the conductor's inability (or disinclination) to obtain really incisive rhythms, which are frequently sacrificed in favor of line and inappropriate legato. The result is a pair of performances that are too soft-centered, too lacking the celebratory mood so essential to these works. Welcome to All the Pleasures, the more intimate of the two, suffers less in this respect, and in certain moods I might be seduced by the lovely sound of the opening Symphony. But the ode's most memorable number, "Hear the deities approve," is flawed by a major miscalculation on Herreweghe's part. This exquisite air is built, as so often with composer's most striking inventions, on a ground bass. Purcell (and any other composer who employed the technique) expected the reiterated pattern to be clearly heard, and to mask it with superfluous lute arpeggiations as happens here is to fatally undermine the fabric of the piece.

The bigger work gets off the ground only very occasionally, most notably for "Wondrous machine," where Peter Harvey's fine sense of rhetoric and authoritative bass serve to emphasize the disappointingly pallid contributions made by some of the other soloists. The choir of the Collegium Vocale copes rather well with the English text, but there are occasional signs that the orchestra is not familiar with the idiom.

My admiration for Herreweghe's slowly continuing series of Bach's choral works remains undiminished over the years; but for these wonderful odes I would certainly want to look elsewhere. Andrew Parrott's mid-price Hail Bright Cecilia (Virgin Veritas VC 545160-2) remains a first choice, a performance of infinitely greater character and vibrancy than on offer here, while Robert King's Royal and Ceremonial Odes (Hyperion CDA 66314) includes a splendidly idiomatic performance of Welcome to All the Pleasures.

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