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<<  -- 2 --  Rex Harley    IMAGINATIVE AND AMBITIOUS


By the Magnificat everyone was in their stride. The glorious bright, brash high trumpets of the opening Magnificat anima mea set the tone, and the choir too was bright and incisive, the conductor allowing no lee-way for self indulgent lingering. The various shades of emotion inherent in the piece were carefully differentiated, and there were moments of great -- even aching -- beauty: the alto and tenor duet In Misericordia; the flute duet in Esurientes; the choral work in Suscepit Israel, where the altos produced a particularly warm and blended sound. The choir coped well with the moments of high drama too, notably in Fecit potentiam. The strings positively zinged through Deposuit potentes, the continuo playing was spot on, and the trumpets continued to have a field day, right through to the final, resounding chords.

If anyone, resuming their seat for the second half, thought the Purcell would be an anti-climax, they were quickly disabused. There is a saying from the stage, that there is no such thing as a small part, only small actors. Similarly with composers: there is no such thing as a routine piece, only dull composers. So, with a splendidly self-satisfied text that moves from the Roman occupation of York, through the Wars of the Roses, to the Glorious Revolution and beyond, Purcell gives his all. True, there are moments where rhetoric comes very close to bombast, but so fleetingly that we can't quite tell if he has his tongue in his cheek or not; nor, more importantly for Purcell, could the worthy burghers of York.

How often does one get a chance to hear this piece? Well, I certainly didn't know it before, and it takes some nerve to make it the main item in a concert. Yet there is some magnificent music. The tenor solo which compares the 'eclipse' of James II's reign with the 'rays' of William's is one of those inventions which, harmonically, send shivers down the spine in the way that only Purcell can. And in Charles Daniels it had the perfect advocate. His voice was marvellously supple and expressive, drawing every nuance out of the music without ever over-dramatising. In fact, all the soloists were excellent, not merely when singing alone, but in the several duets, in a variety of combinations. Giles Underwood has not only a fine, strong voice but a real sense of presence; the martial elements in the piece, which could sound hollow, were in his hands genuinely stirring. Nor was the second bass, Roger Langford, overshadowed. Their duet, with various mutterings and grumblings -- (of dissenters: unregenerate Papists and their ilk!) -- was a model of precision. And Catherine King delivered the poignant epitaph on the Wars of the Roses with all the grace and subtlety one would expect.

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Copyright © 8 May 2005 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK


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