The Fairy Queen Hark! Hark! How all things
Crown the altar, deck the shrine
If music be the food of love
Not all my torments
O, O let me weep
The Indian Queen I attempt from love’s sickness to fly
Olinda in the shades unseen
Urge me no more
Bess of Bedlam
Lovely, lovely Albina
Sweeter than roses
Dear pretty youth
When first Amintas sued for a kiss
The cares of lovers
Ye gentle spirits of the air
An Evening Hymn
Emma Kirkby (soprano)
Christopher Hogwood (organ & spinet)
Anthony Rooley (lute)
Richard Campbell (viola da gamba)
Catherine Mackintosh (violin)
Recorded in October 1982 in Forde Abbey, Somerset, England
Reviewed by: William Yeoman
Reviewed: September 2006
CD No: DECCA ELOQUENCE
Duration: 46 minutes
This is another gem from Eloquence’s series of Emma Kirkby recordings from the 1970s and 1980s. “A Purcell Songbook” features a selection of domestic ‘secular’ songs and songs written for the stage; also included are two songs on ground basses written for more exalted purposes: ‘Crown the altar, deck the shrine’ from “Birthday Song for Queen Mary” (here Kirkby is accompanied by lute alone) and the justly famous “An Evening Hymn” (which concludes the CD), a gorgeous setting of a poem by William Fuller, Bishop of Lincoln, to which Purcell has appended a wonderfully melismatic Hallelujah.
Kirkby lavishes the same care on the texts that Purcell himself did in setting them, with each syllable given due weight and the expressive possibilities explored to the utmost, though never at the expense of decorum. This is elegant, tasteful music-making early-1980s’ style: absent are the more red-blooded, vibrato-laden interpretations of both earlier and later years. Listen to the lightly emphatic diction and bright buoyancy of ‘I attempt from love’s sickness’ from “The Indian Queen” and ‘Hark! Hark! How all things rejoice’ from “The Fairy Queen” or the handling of the often extravagant word-painting in ‘Sweeter than roses’ from “Pausanias, the Betrayer of His Country” and ‘The cares of lovers’ from “Timon of Athens”.
The stand-alone songs, just as theatrical in their own way with their declamatory style and exquisite melismas, are given equally fine performances – though sometimes one wishes for a little more roughness, as might befit the schizophrenic nature of the ‘mad song’, “Bess of Bedlam”. Still, there’s a flexibility in Kirkby’s handling of rhythm and line that provides just the right amount of freedom for most of the time, as in “If music be the food of love” or Purcell’s final song, the joyful “Lovely Albina’s come ashore”. Included here, too, is the mock-song “When Amintas sued for a kiss”, originally a piece for violin that went by the name of “Mr Purcell’s Jig” but subsequently given words by Tom D’Urfey.
A fine collection then, displaying both the variety of Purcell’s genius and Emma Kirkby’s superior interpretational powers. Of course, mention should be made of her equally fine partners: Christopher Hogwood and Anthony Rooley play with great understanding (if not understatement), as does Richard Campbell on gamba. Catherine Mackintosh makes a sole appearance in “O, O let me weep”, her violin obbligato as eloquent as Kirkby’s vocals.
The transfer is excellent, as are Richard Luckett’s brief but informative notes.