Notes and Editorial Reviews
GRAMOPHONE Editor's Choice, October 2004
"When considering the great composer-librettist partnerships few people go back as far as the 17th century: a serious omission given the extraordinary coming together of two monumental talents in John Dryden (1631-1700) and Henry Purcell (1659-95). This fine performance features yet another star of this year’s Gramophone Award winners, the glorious Véronique Gens, as both Mozart’s Countess and Purcell’s Philadell." -
Full review from Fanfare magazine:
Like the William Christie recording, this King Arthur features Véronique Gens and an international cast. Unlike the Christie—or the Gardiner, which is my other preferred recording—this
performance led by Herve Niquet is contained on one disc, which makes it a bargain, if one is willing to sacrifice some of the occasional music (though none of the vocal) that Gardiner and Christie include. It remains a fascinating piece, or series of pieces, a patriotic work that idealizes the British and their ur-hero and yet is curiously realistic about war. After an overture, air, and symphony, the first act opens with the Saxon sacrifice of three horses to Woden, his wife, and to Thor’s mother. As the Saxons are appeasing this odd trio, the Britons are being invited by the countertenor and choir to drink “the juice that makes the Britons bold.” Then the presumably drunken heroes charge the soon “fainting” Saxons while “the gods from above the mad labor behold.” The gods may be angry, but they are not crazy.
That is, of course, not the end of the story: the defeated Oswald captures Arthur’s blind girl friend Emmeline, giving Arthur an additional motive to defeat the Saxons definitively. There are spells and deceptions, some more pleasing than others. A group of naked sirens attempts to seduce Arthur, who remains true to his captured lover. Meanwhile, the hapless Osmond has fallen sincerely in love with Emmeline. To prove the power of love, he creates a frozen moor. The idea is to show that love can defrost even the frozen. There’s even a chorus of cold people. In the end, the heroine is rescued, the Saxons defeated, and the musical stage turned over to celebrants including a chorus of farmers who are encouraged to drink hearty of England’s ale. In this new recording, the chorus of louts ends with a discreet burp. This entertainment—the whole play with music included takes over four hours to present—was written by the great poet John Dryden. It contains elaborate compliments by the English to themselves and to their monarch, and a relatively wholesome emphasis on good times. The young are encouraged to make love, not war.
Niquet’s recording certainly feels different, larger, and more expansive, than the Gardiner. Gardiner seems to feature a smaller orchestra, or so the recording makes it seem. His rhythms are more delicate, and his lead soprano Jennifer Smith sings with less vibrato and with a smaller voice in general than does Véronique Gens. Gens makes few concessions to what scholars suggest was early-music practice. The warm, resonant recording is strikingly different from the relatively dry acoustic Gardiner’s group is given. I admire both recordings, the rich new recording by Niquet and the older, more astringent sounding Gardiner. Peter Harvey is an appealing singer in whatever role he assumes: Niquet’s soloists are equal to, if different from, Gardiner’s. Gardiner has one advantage in that most of his chorus, at least, is singing in its original language. Still, this new one-disc recording is lovely, lively, and appealing throughout.
Michael Ullman, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
King Arthur, or The British Worthy, Z 628 by Henry Purcell
Béatrice Jarrige (Alto),
Cyril Auvity (Countertenor),
Véronique Gens (Soprano),
Hanna Bayodi (Soprano),
Peter Harvey (Bass),
Joseph Cornwell (Tenor)
Le Concert Spirituel
Written: 1691; England
Date of Recording: 10/2003
Venue: Arsenal Concert Hall, Metz, France
Length: 76 Minutes 7 Secs.
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