Thursday, August 16, 2012 by Bertil van Boer
This is yet another release by Tafelmusik on its own label of discs originally produced under the Sony Classics label. This set of incidental music was done in 1994 and pretty much includes all of the various ancillary movements to Henry Purcell’s hemi-demi-semi-operas, those odd Restoration pieces that are purely English mixtures of such English dramatic luminaries such as John Dryden and William Shakespeare, as well as the Frenchballet du cour of Jean-Baptiste Lully and his French colleagues. Given that not everyone in England could attend the theater to see these plays live, they were published in 1697, two years after Purcell’s death, in a volume titled A Collection of Ayres, compos’d for the Theatre, and upon other Occasions as suites of various instrumental excerpts that alluded to the stage but were suitable for more domestic performances.
Each of these four suites has the original order of the music jumbled in order to make it more compatible with the aesthetics of the time. Given that engraving was a costly venture, only some of the cues were inserted into the part books, but this disc purports to be a reconstruction of how they might have done under Purcell’s direction (were he still alive when they were published) and been able to fill in the missing woodwind and brass parts. The result is, as one expects of Tafelmusik and its musicological advisors, salutary, and while it is certainly stretching things to consider it a true “restoration” (pun intended) of things Purcellian, it makes for a delightfully entertaining disc. As I did not purchase it when it first appeared, it is good to have it once more available to give a taste of the pithier stage pieces.
Not much needs to be said about this rerelease. The performances are lively and precise, with the musicality of the dances coming through with no difficulties whatsoever. The sound is crystal-clear, the tempos nicely done, and the playing cannot be faulted (as Tafelmusik’s players are able to do this material in their sleep, apparently). I am quite fond of the two chaconnes, one in King Arthur and the other in The Fairy Queen ; it has always been fascinating that Purcell could be so imitative of the French style of Lully in these ostinato pieces and yet have them appear to be so English. They are not effete, nor are they pretentious, but rather they are exacting in the measure of the dance.
If you haven’t purchased this for your collection, I would recommend that you do so, for this is music that will always delight the ears and evoke an age of English musical renewal by one of the great composers of the British realms.