The Purcell Quartet has become recognized as one of the leading chamber groups in the realm of Baroque music performance. As its name suggests, the group has devoted much effort to championing the chamber works of Henry Purcell, playing and recording a great amount of his output, notably the complete three- and four-part sonatas and the complete pavans. But the group's vast repertory also includes works by J.S. Bach, Corelli, Handel, Vivaldi, Schütz, and many other Baroque composers. In addition, -- and what makes the Purcell players unique -- they have staged operas, such as Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea and have presented large choral works in concert by Bach, including cantatas and masses. They have made over 50 recordings, mostly for the Chandos label.
The Purcell Quartet was founded in London in 1983, but did not give its debut concert until February 14, the following year, at London's St. John's, Smith Square. The group's members then were Robert Woolley (keyboard), Catherine Mackintosh (violin), Elizabeth Wallfisch (second violin), and Richard Boothby (cello; viola da gamba). Only one change in personnel has taken place over the years: violinist Catherine Weiss replaced Wallfisch.
The group had immediate success following its triumphant 1984 debut concert, and within three years turned out six recordings for the Hyperion label, each devoted to a different Baroque composer: Vivaldi, Corelli, Alessandro Scarlatti, C.P.E. Bach, Geminiani, and Marais. In 1987 the ensemble began recording for Chandos Records and has produced more than 40 CD titles for that British label.
By the early '90s, the Purcell Quartet was in great demand, both at home and abroad. Numerous concert tours took the quartet not only throughout the U.K., but across Europe, the U.S., South America, and parts of the Middle East. In 1998 the group traveled to Japan to stage performances of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea. Three years later it returned for another important tour, this one featuring a highly successful staging of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo starring Mark Padmore. Other leading vocalists have typically appeared at the Purcell Quartet's opera and concert productions over the years, including Emma Kirkby, Nancy Argenta, Michael Chance, and Peter Harvey.
The Purcell Quartet marked its 20th anniversary in an acclaimed February 2004 concert at Wigmore Hall. The ensemble has remained very active in the recording studio, and among its recordings is the 2006 Chandos CD of Couperin's Les Nations, Vol. 2.