Various Artists

Baroque England

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AllMusic Review by James Manheim

The performances on this anthology disc are all by big names of the period-instrument movement, most of them French and English. There are a few exceptions: countertenor Alfred Deller is not in his best voice on the Purcell Evening Hymn (track 21), and the peppy "Hallelujah" chorus from William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the end is idiosyncratic. But these are balanced by some truly lovely moments, such as the "Echo" chorus from Purcell's The Fairy Queen, again from Christie and Les Arts Florissants. The real question with such an anthology is whether it assembles a more coherent package than the listener would be likely to pull together on his own or her own, and here the answer is a definite yes. (This disc is part of a Harmonia Mundi series covering European music history from the ancient world to the present.) English Baroque music is ideally suited to this kind of treatment, for it is full of unfamiliar genres that other releases rarely fully explain. Once you get your mind around the anthem, you then have to contend with full anthems and verse anthems, for example. And what is the awkwardly named semi-opera? The booklet here is organized in a question-and-answer format that addresses these issues and a host of others, and the disc contains musical illustrations of the genres discussed. All in all, it's an admirable attempt to boil down what could have been very dry text material into an engaging Socratic experience. The disc gets across the distinctive general trait of English music across the whole Baroque period -- older styles, such as Renaissance polyphony, tended to persist in England after falling out of fashion elsewhere, but English composers pushed them in fascinating new directions linked to the situations in which they arose. To give the casual listener a feel for this with a single one-disc package is quite an accomplishment. No texts are provided for the vocal works, but despite their non-English origins the performers are mostly intelligible. Of course, this does not help francophones at all.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 02:22 Amazon
Fantasia-Suite for violin, bass viol & organ No. 1 in G minor
2 05:09 Amazon
3 04:23 Amazon
Trio sonata for 2 violins & continuo in B flat major, Op. 2/3, HWV 388
4 02:56 Amazon
Concerto Grosso in A minor, Op.6/4, HWV 322
5 02:12 Amazon
6 02:37 Amazon
Water Music Suite No.2 for orchestra in D major, HWV 349
7 03:48 Amazon
Venus and Adonis, masque
8 02:45 Amazon
9 05:10 Amazon
Dido and Aeneas, opera, Z. 626
10 00:51 Amazon
11 04:07 Amazon
The Fairy Queen, semi-opera, Z. 629
12 02:31 Amazon
13 01:19 Amazon
14 02:33 Amazon
Acis and Galatea, oratorio, HWV 49
15 03:45 Amazon
Giulio Cesare in Egitto, opera, HWV 17
16 03:30 Amazon
Serse (Xerxes), opera, HWV 40
17 00:39 Amazon
18 03:02 Amazon
19 04:25 Amazon
20 08:03 Amazon
21 05:04 Amazon
Messiah, oratorio, HWV 56
22 04:25 Amazon
23 03:22 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick