The King's Consort

Purcell: Ten Sonatas in Four Parts

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Henry Purcell composed a series of trio sonatas in the then novel and even controversial Italian style in the early 1680s. Some were published, but the ones here remained in manuscript and were assembled by his wife into a set (of indeterminate order) and published as Ten Sonatas in Four Parts. They must have seemed odd to their first hearers, and it's not surprising that Purcell saw no market for them during his lifetime. The sonatas are dramatic, jagged, irregular works. There's a bit of the sheer tunefulness of Purcell's incidental music, and of the seriousness of his sacred and dramatic works, but the overall feel is of something experimental, of the open new trio sonata texture mixed with the tradition of English polyphony. These are sonatas of the pre-Corelli type, with sequences of short movements, and Purcell exploits their possibilities in highly imaginative ways. Some of the sonatas complicate themselves into extremely murky harmonic worlds; others explode into instrumental fireworks. What's needed is a group of musicians who don't play the sonatas in a monotone fashion but bring out the bizarre moments without breaking the boundaries of the style. Both the King's Consort and a rival recording by the Retrospect Trio (an offshoot and rival of the venerable King's Consort) are good picks, but the Vivat label gets the edge here with its near-ideal small-auditorium sound. A very strong choice for Purcell fans.

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