Scots tenor Paul Agnew has an ideal voice for Purcell: clean, pure, supple, strong across its range, with exceptionally precise intonation. His delivery is natural and unmannered, and he is undaunted by the music's outrageous technical demands, so that even the most ornately embellished lines sound spontaneously imagined and genuinely felt. (His is a voice, in fact, that would be ideal for any number of composers.) In this recital of songs by Purcell, intermingled with instrumental interludes by a few of the composer's contemporaries, Agnew is joined by three other virtuosos: Anne-Marie Lasla playing bass viol, Elizabeth Kenny playing theorbo and guitar, and Blandine Rannou playing harpsichord and organ. There is nothing routine about their realizations of the continuo parts, and the variety of their solutions astonishes with inventiveness. Even the simplest, O Solitude, in which Lasla accompanies Agnew with a single unadorned bass line, holds the listener rapt for almost seven minutes with the sensuality and sensitive interweaving of voice and viol. The most complex realizations, such as those for Music for a while, and the third of the composer's three settings of If music be the food of Love (track 1) have the richness and texture of chamber music. Music for a while, justly recognized as one of the composer's masterpieces, elicits a performance from Agnew that's spellbinding in its intensity and interpretive depth. The recital is nicely varied, from the anguished and sophisticated Not all my torments can your pity move, to the ribald, earthy Man is for the woman made, and contains an attractive mix of familiar and less well-known repertoire. Agnew seems to be miked very closely, but rather than being a fault, it makes him feel physically close to the listener. The balance with the instruments is good, and sound is natural and effectively ambient. Highly recommended for fans of Baroque vocal music, or anyone who loves beautiful singing.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
Now that the sun hath veiled his light, sacred song for soprano & continuo ("An Evening Hymn"), Z. 193