PURCELL: Harmonia Sacra – Rosemary Joshua, sop./ Laurence Dreyfus, viola de gamba/ Elizabeth Kenny, lute/ Les Talens Lyriques/ Christophe Rousset, clavecin/organ/director – Aparte AP027, 75:41 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Harmonia Sacra is the name of two published volumes which contain, among other composers, the sacred songs of Henry Purcell, most for one voice but for up to four, and using the listed continuo instruments as actually mentioned in the scores. Other of the songs on this album not found in the publication is taken directly from Purcell’s manuscripts.
More than most composers of the time, Purcell’s sacred music meant a lot to him and occupies an important place in his oeuvre, though the songs, with the exception of a few, are not as well-known as his large collection of secular pieces. The songs range from almost 30-second brief selections to cantata-like works or great profundity and precision in setting the vocal line.
This recording gathers together all of the sacred songs written for high voice, with the addition of a few that add an additional bass line in parts (not included on the recording), plus a smattering of appropriate instrumental pieces that break up the action and help avoid monotony. Truthfully they aren’t needed, as Purcell’s songs, no matter the quantity, are never in danger of boring the listener, but the program is well rounded and quite lavish. Welsh soprano Rosemary Joshua is something of a Baroque specialist, especially in Handel, but has also tried her hand at many other styles as well. She has a fast vibrato that seems particularly suited to this music, and is able to convey all of the inbred heartfelt emotion found in these pieces. Rousset and company provide apt and intelligent accompaniment throughout. This is a fine recording and a welcome addition to the Purcell discography.
1. Tell me, some pitying angel 2. In the black, dismal dungeon of despair 3. We sing to him, whose wisdome form’d the ear 4. Air in G minor 5. Great God, and just 6. My song shall be alway 7. Ground in D minor 8. Lord, what is man? 9. Let the night perish 10. Chaconne in G minor 11. The night is come 12. With sick and famish’d eyes 13. How have I stray’d 14. Prelude (Suite in G minor) 15. Allemande 16. Courante 17. Sarabande 18. My opening eyes are purged 19. How long, great God 20. Ground in C minor 21. Sleep, Adam, and take thy rest 22. Thou wakeful shepherd 23. The earth trembled 24. Now that the sun hath veil’d his light
An excellent DG debut!