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Purcell: Dido & Aeneas / Currentzis, Kermes, York, Et Al

Release Date: 02/10/2009 
Label:  Alpha Productions   Catalog #: 140   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Henry Purcell
Performer:  Simone KermesDeborah YorkDimitris Tiliakos
Conductor:  Teodor Currentzis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  MusicAeternaNew Siberian Singers
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

PURCELL Dido and Aeneas Teodor Currentzis, cond; Simone Kermes ( Dido ); Dimitris Tiliakos ( Aeneas ); Deborah York ( Belinda ); Oleg Ryabets ( Sorceress ); Valiera Safonova ( Spirit ); Margarita Mezentseva ( First Woman ); Sofia Fomina ( Read more class="ARIAL12i">Second Woman ); Alexandre Zverev ( Sailor ); New Siberian C Ch; Musica Aeterna (period instruments) ALPHA 140 (63:43 Text and Translation)

Turning to the post-Soviets for Baroque music is apt to produce interesting results, both because there’s a lack of an extensive internal performance tradition, and because the evolution of debate over early-music practice has found more participants elsewhere. This isn’t an a priori criticism of anything the Russians produce. After all, there’s still quite a lot of argument among early-music advocates about what constitutes authenticity over a range of content: linguistic pronunciation, instrumental tone, figurative improvisation, musica ficta , etc. Baroque enthusiasts in the former Soviet Union are simply apt to be a little farther out there than their foreign colleagues are.

So it proves, here. The act II “Prelude of the Witches,” for instance, begins with 20 seconds of thunder provided by a kettledrum, briefly supplemented by a distant bell, before the actual music proper commences. The laughing choruses that conclude both “The Queen of Carthage” and “Ruin’d ere the set of sun?” are subjected to extreme accelerandos. The kettledrum returns as a crushingly heavy beat to punctuate “But ere we this perform,” while “Destruction’s our delight” is taken at an unusually fast clip. Changes to traditional tempos, orchestration, and dynamics, in other words, are common if not routine, and often appear to reflect a sensibility aimed at visualizing the music, rather than simply playing it. Teodor Currentzis and Music Aeterna manage all this with technical aplomb, incisive rhythms, and an appropriately lean sound.

The greatest difference, however, lies in the presentation of Dido. She is given notably slower tempos in “Ah! Belinda, I am prest with torment” than I’ve heard elsewhere: around 64 beats per minute, while in another recent recording that hews closer to a current standard—Devine/Kenny/Connolly/Age of Enlightenment, on Chandos 757—a flexible 80 beats per minute are applied. Kermes uses the extra temporal space to shape the musical line in a way that will strike some as a case of extreme indulgence and others as an instance of self-absorption wholly suitable to Dido. The aria in question becomes a dramatic monologue of impressive weight, not unlike Ivan Kozlovsky’s singing of “Kuda, kuda” in Eugen Onegin . Is it fitting in context; is it even fitting from a theatrical standpoint to take such a slow and intense reading of an aria so early in the work? Probably not. I’ve heard this performance more than half a dozen times now, however, and any purely abstract concerns I might have before (and after) listening to it are completely banished while listening to the artistry and refinement of Kermes.

As much can be said of the rest of her impersonation of Dido: fascinating in detail, even as it focuses a magnifying glass on the emotions of her character. Her opening verse in the recitative “Whence could so much virtue spring?” is a delight for its extreme ease with Baroque figurations, gradations of color, fine enunciation, and attention to expressivity. “Thy hand, Belinda, darkness shades me” and the famous Lament seem much slower than other versions, not because they are—this time they match the timing of Connolly’s outstanding reading—but because the full panoply of effective devices used by Kermes is applied, slowing down time through the addition of detail. In short, this will prove a controversial Dido, but an exceptionally well thought out and sung one.

Deborah York is a curious choice as a foil to Kermes. She has a well-equalized voice, good coloratura, and seemingly limitless breath control, as noted in her performance of Beauty from Handel’s Il trinfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (Näive 30440), but there’s an occasional tendency to drop pressure at the end of a note, shading ever so slightly flat—and absolutely no sense of the text. Her blank-faced Belinda doesn’t so much set off this Dido as much as it makes her seem to come from another planet. The dark-toned tenor of Dimitris Tiliakos is better at soft-toned pleading and reflection than heroic utterance, and better in the deeper, baritonal chest range than in the less secure upper reaches of his voice. He also shows a convincing awareness of Baroque figuration. Alexandre Zverev’s dry tenor isn’t helped by extremely poor English pronunciation. As for Oleg Ryabets: I can understand why a countertenor would seem attractive in the role of the Sorceress. It provides the same sense of eeriness that Rimsky-Korsakov sought in a high tenor for the Magician’s part in The Golden Cockerel at a time when countertenors weren’t available. But Ryabets has only moderate breath control and enunciation, with a strangled sound that verges on unpleasant rather than simply strange.

The lengthy, excellent, and exasperating liner notes spend not a moment discussing this production, but dwell in detail on Dido’s tragedy as presented first by Virgil and then in many subsequent stage versions. Texts are offered in full.

This is clearly not a Dido and Aeneas for purists. However, it is a beguiling one that reflects a thorough study of the work, with excellent choral and orchestral work. Above all, it’s definitely worth the purchase for Kermes, whether or not you agree with her interpretation.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Dido and Aeneas, Z 626 by Henry Purcell
Performer:  Simone Kermes (Soprano), Deborah York (Soprano), Dimitris Tiliakos (Baritone)
Conductor:  Teodor Currentzis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  MusicAeterna,  New Siberian Singers
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1689; England 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Purcell: Dido& Aeneas/Kermes, Currentz,York September 14, 2015 By Peter Granville-Edmunds ART (Cheltenham. Gloucestershire, England) See All My Reviews "I first heard part of this recording on the English BBC classical radio. Frankly I was stunned with Simone Kermes voice, utterly sensitive, emotional and convincing as the Queen of Cartage. Different, yes, uniquely. I have other wonderful recordings but this recording is unique and a must, in my view. The casting and recording is superb." Report Abuse
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