John Eliot Gardiner

Purcell: Gardiner Collection "Hail! Bright Cecilia"

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In the Hail! Bright Cecilia sweepstakes, John Eliot Gardiner's 1982 recording with the Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloists, and a handful of English hotshot singers has its rabid fans. But then, so does Gardiner: although conspicuous only for the frothy lightness of his musical meringue, Gardiner has his appeal with those listeners who apparently like their early music sans substance or sublimity. In Gardiner's Hail! Bright Cecilia, the work's grandeur is empty rhetoric and its intimacy is inane banality. Gardiner's singers are superb -- Ashley Stafford and Paul Elliot are ravishing in "In vain the am'rous flute" -- and the Monteverdi Choir is wonderful -- the closing chorus is clear and bright, indeed -- and the English Baroque Soloists are outstanding -- their opening symphony is rich and colorful and their accompaniment is alert and sensitive. But even though most of these virtues are the result of Gardiner's leadership, his interpretation has no goal but the clear and lucid articulation of the note in the score. As in so many of Gardiner's performances, his Hail! Bright Cecilia is less than the sum of its parts, a form without content and a text without meaning. In the Hail! Bright Cecilia sweepstakes, for all its lightness and speed, Gardiner trails in the back of the pack. Erato's early digital sound is hard and a bit opaque.

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