The performances on this disc of Henry Purcell's theatrical music by Toronto's energetic Aradia Ensemble are pleasant but not extraordinary. The novelty is the programming, which brings listeners closer than other releases to the unique quality of this music. Purcell's music for plays contained both pieces that are part of the action and incidental music, often with French dance rhythms. He wrote straight opera and straight instrumental music, but what makes much of his music (such as the strangely named semi-operas) difficult to get a grip on for modern listeners is that it falls into an intermediate zone that doesn't really exist any longer. As a result, you typically get programs of either vocal or instrumental pieces in this repertory. Irish-Canadian conductor Kevin Mallon solves the problem with this set of excerpts from Purcell's music for four different plays, three of them including both vocal and instrumental pieces. This gives the listener an idea of the larger affinities among Purcell's pieces for a specific play. Is there a historical performance movement in theater? Some of the staggering sums spent each year on largely similar Shakespeare performances could probably be put to better use in producing Restoration dramas with Purcell's original music in place, and with dancers involved. Lacking that, this disc may be the next best thing. The sound is an irritant, with hollow echoes bouncing off the wall of a Toronto church that would have borne no aural resemblance whatsoever to the ambiance of the Drury Lane Theatre. The efforts of the otherwise able vocal soloists are especially damaged.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Amphitryon, or, the Two Sosias, incidental music, Z. 572|
|Sir Barnaby Whigg, or, No Wit Like a Woman's, incidental music, Z. 589|
|The Gordian Knot Unty'd, incidental music, Z. 597|
|Circe, incidental music, Z. 575|