Purcell and The Sixteen Provide a Life-enhancing Evening, Full of Joy

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II: The Sixteen / Harry Christophers (conductor). Wigmore Hall, London, 22.1.2018. (CC)

Purcell – Rejoice in the Lord alway, Z 49; Dioclesian: Chaconne ‘Two in One upon a Ground,’ Z 627; Close thine eyes and sleep secureBlow, Boreas, blow (from the play Sir Barnaby Whigg); O all ye people, clap your hands, Z 138; Come, my hearts, play your parts, Z 246; Welcome Song 1662, ‘What shall be done on behalf of the man’, Z 341; Overture in D minor, Z 771; Thy genius, lo!, Z 604; Praise the Lord, all ye heathen, Z 43; Retir’d from any mortal’s sight, Z 581 (from the play Sir Barnaby Whigg); Welcome Song 1684, ‘From those serene and rapturous joys,’ Z 326

This was a fascinating, rewarding evening in the company of The Sixteen. All-Purcell programmes are something of a rarity, and yet to explore not only Purcell’s endless invention but also his sheer zest for life is a phenomenal experience. The Sixteen brought out a disc of Royal Welcome Songs for King James last year and a disc of Welcome Songs for James II is currently available for pre-order; this is the logical follow-on, and one assumes – and hopes – a recording will follow.

The famous Rejoice in the Lord alway (text Philippians 44-7) is also known as the ‘Bell’ Anthem, a reference immediately obvious with the prevalence of descending scalic figures. The balance of choir, chamber organ and theorbo was beautifully done, the entire performance swathed in an aura of confidence and exuding style (in both senses: the account generally and an informed sense of Purcell’s style). Later in the programme, a setting of part of Psalm 117, O Praise the Lord, O ye heathen, demonstrated similar traits, albeit in a rather more subdued way. The Chaconne for two recorders and cello was beautifully and intimately performed with Rebecca Miles and Ian Wilson as the recorder players.

The composer of Dido certainly makes himself known in Blow, Boreas, Blow, one of Purcell’s theatre songs – from Sir Barnaby Whigg by Thomas Durfey (1691) – before Purcell’s aptitude for more complex writing was showcased in O all ye people, clap your hands, a four-part setting of several verses of Psalm 47 in a rhyming version by Dr. John Patrick. The tavern song Come, my hearts, play your parts, is a three-part catch with some lovely a cappella moments. The jovial Welcome Song 1682 ‘What shall be done in behalf of the Man’ featured the excellent recorders of Miles and Wilson again, concluding the first half.

A fabulous performance of the Overture in D minor, a piece originally copied by John Reading of Winchester Cathedral sometime between 1682 and 1685 presented a markedly dramatic piece, acting as a reminder of the sheer theatricality of Purcell’s writing. Contrasts were the key to this concert, but to the second half in particular, with Thy Genius, lo! changing mood to suddenly jaunty half way through.

While the lachrymose Retir’d from any mortal’s sight seemed to prolong the subdued nature of Purcell’s setting of part of Psalm 117, the Welcome Song From those serene and rapturous joys was remarkable in its ability to combine both graciousness and the celebratory; the end was bright and joyous. The lines by Thomas Flatman set by Purcell includes the line ‘With trumpets and shouts we receive the World’s Wonder’; even without the physical sound of trumpet, the idea was clear.

A life-enhancing evening, full of joy and led with supreme confidence by Harry Christophers.

Colin Clarke

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