Christopher Hogwood

Purcell: Theatre Music

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Why did historical-performance recordings have such a bad name for so long among ordinary classical listeners? Perhaps it was because it was old instruments themselves that were revived first; studies of how to play them expressively came later on. Look no further than this box set for examples of performances that drain the verve from some very snappy Baroque music -- the large body of songs and instrumental incidental pieces Henry Purcell wrote for the theater over his brief compositional career. These performances were originally issued between 1974 and 1983, and the analog sound does not make the transition to compact disc especially well. These are mostly short pieces; some of the instrumental interludes last no more than a minute or two. They are quite miraculously defined by a few quick lyrical strokes, but Hogwood's monotone approach reduces them to the background music that they would have been in a lesser composer's hands.

Decca label personnel apparently believe that there are hardcore Hogwood fans out there with a burning desire to hear six discs' worth of his Purcell. Perhaps they're right. Hogwood's restrained yet tense approach was at its best in an accompanimental role, and these recordings did showcase a generation of English early music singers at their best. Emma Kirkby was rarely more graceful than in this repertory, and soprano Judith Nelson in particular has an unaffected English diction that's a pleasure to hear. A large group of singers of the era (16 in all) is represented, along with the Taverner Choir under the direction of Andrew Parrott.

In their day, the LP albums from which these performances might well have been the only available choices for Purcell's theatrical music. The intervening years, however, have brought an explosion of alternatives. Discs of instrumental pieces by the Parley of Instruments and of such works as the "semi-opera" King Arthur led by conductor John Eliot Gardiner make better places to start with a repertory that offers a wealth of joys.

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Bonduca, or, The British Heroine, incidental music, Z. 574
1
2:36
2
3:29
3
2:56
4
1:54
5
2:58
6
1:18
7
2:45
8
0:51
9
2:10
10
2:47
11
2:48
Circe, incidental music, Z. 575
12
2:35
13
3:17
14
3:26
15
3:16
16
2:49
The Virtuous Wife, or, Good Luck at Last, incidental music, Z. 611
17
2:13
18
4:48
19
6:18
The Old Bachelor, incidental music, Z. 607
20
2:23
21
1:02
22
2:24
23
1:58
24
2:26
25
4:12

Track Listing - Disc 4

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
The Double Dealer, incidental music, Z. 592
1
2:49
2
4:14
3
2:28
4
4:40
The Richmond Heiress, or, A Woman Once in the Right, incidental music, Z. 608
5
8:38
The Rival Sisters, or, the Violence of Love, incidental music, Z. 609
6
3:30
7
2:20
8
1:20
9
1:36
Henry II, King of England, incidental music, Z. 580
10
1:56
Tyrannic Love, or, the Royal Martyr, incidental music, Z. 613
11
4:18
12
4:31
13
3:15
Theodosius, or, the Force of Love, incidental music, Z.606
14
1:42
15
2:51
16
2:55
17
2:44
18
2:19
19
2:19
20
1:43
21
2:35
22
2:15

Track Listing - Disc 5

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
The Libertine, or, the Libertine Destroyed, incidental music, Z. 600
1
1:51
2
1:39
3
1:27
4
4:38
5
3:20
The Massacre of Paris, incidental music, Z. 604
6
6:21
Oedipus, incidental music, Z. 583
7
3:03
8
3:41
9
2:25
10
2:50
The History of King Richard II, or, The Sicilian Usurper, incidental music, Z. 581
11
3:01
Sir Barnaby Whigg, or, No Wit Like a Woman's, incidental music, Z. 589
12
3:45
Sophonisba, or Hannibal's Overthrow, incidental music, Z. 590
13
1:50
The English Lawyer, incidental music, Z. 594
14
1:28
A Fool's Preferment, or, The Three Dukes of Dunstable, incidental music, Z. 571
15
1:49
16
2:43
17
1:25
18
2:11
19
0:43
The Indian Emperor, or, The Conquest of Mexico, incidental music, Z. 598
20
2:08
The Knight of Malta, incidental music, Z. 599
21
1:31
Why, my Daphne, why complaining? (A Dialogue between Thirsis and Daphne), song for soprano, bass & continuo, Z. 525
22
3:39
The Wives' Excuse, or, Cuckolds Make Themselves, incidental music, Z. 612
23
2:28
24
1:25
25
2:34
Cleomenes, the Spartan Hero, incidental music, Z. 576
26
3:01
Regulus, or, the Faction of Carthage, incidental music, Z. 586
27
3:15
The Marriage-Hater Match'd, incidental music, Z. 602
28
4:01

Track Listing - Disc 6

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Love Triumphant, or Nature Will Prevail, incidental music, Z. 582
1
1:44
Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, incidental music, Z. 587
2
1:13
The Female Virtuosos, incidental music, Z. 596
3
2:00
Epsom Wells, incidental music, Z. 579
4
2:14
The Maid's Last Prayer, or, Any Rather than Fail, incidental music, Z. 601
5
2:07
6
4:13
7
1:58
Aureng-Zebe, or, the Great Mogul, incidental music, Z. 573
8
2:36
The Canterbury Guests, or, A Bargain Broken, incidental music, Z. 591
9
3:21
The Fatal Marriage, or, the Innocent Adultery, incidental music, Z. 595
10
2:16
11
2:50
Spanish Friar, or, the Double Discovery, incidental music, Z. 610
12
2:44
Pausanias, the Betrayer of his Country, incidental music, Z. 585
13
3:01
14
2:38
The Mock Marriage, incidental music, Z. 605
15
4:46
Oroonoko, incidental music, Z. 584
16
3:16
17
3:35
18
3:00
19
3:07
20
3:27
21
4:14
22
6:55
23
4:47
blue highlight denotes track pick