John BLOW: “Begin the Song!”, Chaconne a 4 in G major, “An Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell”, “Ground in G minor”, “The Nymph of the wells”, Sonata in A major, “Dread Sir, the Prince of Light” – Simon Boden, tenor/ Thomas Walker, tenor/ Arcangelo/ Jonathan Cohen – Hyperion CDA 68149, 76:36 (9-29-2017) *****:
This newest miracle of Restoration sound and poetry from Hyperion explores the world of John Blow, Gentleman of the Chapel of Charles II, with four odes and a tasty sampling of instrumental delights.
The highlight must be the Ode on Purcell’s death, 20 minutes of alternating pairs of duets and solos in which Blow, following as closely as he can Dryden’s brilliant writing, transforms the somber occasion – “Alas too soon retir’d, as he too late began” – into visual experiences which demand music.
The authentic sweetness of the singing by Boden and Walker in “We beg not hell our Orpheus to restore” and “The power of harmony too well they know” feels completely personal, as if intended for actual friends along with the larger public audience.
This music might have been written for Arcangelo whose every member seems on board for a highly authentic conjuration in which first a pleasant ambience is achieved and then, upon closer listening, seduction occurs. Among the instrumental chaconnes and grounds the luscious Trio in A major—two sublime Slows following by a highly suggestive Brisk—are particularly outstanding.
Renaissance man Cohen—a cellist who can play with and without an endpin—conducts well by conducting very little, allowing the musicians to linger naturally so that the listener will be able to reflect upon each subtle movement of harmony, each uncovering of beauty, just how it would have been played in its time.
Musicologist Bruce Wood contributes a sober but awfully detailed note—research for the Masterpiece Theatre perhaps—which brings you eventually to realize just how enormously John Blow inhabited the English musical scene in his time: organist and choirmaster at Wren’s new St. Paul’s Cathedral, Purcell’s teacher. And makes you want to listen it again.
The recordings were made at St. Jude-on-the-Hill, the parish church of London’s Hampstead Garden Suburb, somehow sounding intimate and large at the same time, probably something to do with the speed and direction with which the sound disperses in the imposing but sober hall.