PURCELL: Hail! Bright Cecilia (Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day); Come ye Sons of Art (Ode for the Birthday of Queen Mary); Music for the funeral of Queen Mary – Soloists/Monteverdi Choir & Orch. etc./ John Eliot Gardiner – Erato Veritas (2 CDs)

PURCELL: Hail! Bright Cecilia (Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day); Come ye Sons of Art (Ode for the Birthday of Queen Mary); Music for the funeral of Queen Mary – Jennifer Smith, Felicity Lott, sopranos/ Ashley Stafford, Brian Gordon, Charles Brett, John Williams, countertenors/ Stephen Varcoe, bar./ David Thomas, Thomas Allen, basses/ Monteverdi Ch. & Orch./ English Baroque Soloists/ Equale Brass Ens./ John Eliot Gardiner – Erato Veritas 08256 4619524 4 (2 CDs), 97:57 [Distr. by Warner] *****:

This is another of the recent releases concerning the early work of John Eliot Gardiner. In this case, the first disc that contains Purcell’s 1692 Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day “Hail! Bright Cecilia” is post-conversion Monteverdi Orchestra, which switched to period instruments in 1977 and became the English Baroque Soloists. This 1982 recording of the composer’s fourth attempt at a Ceclilian opus is magnificent on all accounts. Even then, in the early years of period performance, Gardiner’s band achieves a glean and sheen that leaves most other similar bands in the dust. Intonation is superb, and interpretatively he is simply, as he usually was back then, without peer.

As good as Cecilia is, the second disc shines for me, back to conventional instruments. Come ye Sons of Art, was the last of six birthday odes that Purcell created for Queen Mary. If not as grand as Cecilia, it is still quite the stunner, with some of the most moving music the composer ever penned. Particularly striking here is the seventh movement (“Bid the Virtues”), sung to radiant perfection by Felicity Lott, reminding us of how superlative an artist she was at the time. Music for the funeral of Queen Mary, completed just one year after the birthday ode, has been immortalized by Walter (now Wendy) Carlos’s electronic setting for the movie Clockwork Orange, actually still the favorite among many people! We don’t know exactly how this was presented, and Gardiner seems to make use of Thurston Dart’s reconstruction (including drums in the “March”, which are not called for in the score), but really, who cares? This is done in excellent fashion, a beautifully polished and immaculately presented rendition that is most moving.

All in all, especially at the price, this is a no-brainer. Sound is superb.

—Steven Ritter

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