Purcell: Music for Queen Mary (CD review)

Choir of King's College, Cambridge; Stephen Cleobury, Academy of Ancient Music. EMI 0946 3 44438 2.

The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, has been recording some wonderful music for many, many years, and this album, containing music written for Queen Mary between 1692 and 1695, is among the ranks of their very finest work.

The Ode for the Birthday of Queen Mary (1694, "Come, ye sons of Art") by Henry Purcell (1658-1695) is one of the English composer's most-famous and well-loved pieces, so it appropriately leads off the program. But it is the funeral music (1694) for the Queen that stands out in my mind. The first performance took place for a ceremony several months after the Queen's death, and while the music is obviously solemn and austere, it is illuminating and heartfelt, too, with a startling "Drum Processional" that is almost uncanny. Stephen Cleobury, the Academy of Ancient Music, and the Choir of King's College do a splendid job opening up this music for modern audiences.

Ironically, Purcell himself would die the same year his Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary and Funeral Anthem of Queen Mary was first performed. Maybe all that funereal business got to him. Anyway, the disc includes "Come, ye sons of Art" (a birthday ode for Queen Mary), "Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem," "Love's goddess sure was blind" (another birthday ode for the Queen two years earlier), the Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, Funeral Sentences, and the Funeral Anthem of Queen Mary.

The choir sound wonderfully lifelike in an EMI recording that one must note for its natural setting, its ambient glow, and its superb spacial characteristics. The overall tonal balance is near perfect, with the choir well integrated into the surroundings, although there is a softness to the presentation that might not please everyone. Depending on your audio system, the sound of the recording, made in the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge, may seem a little too reverberant, even dull or veiled, but I found the sound quite pleasing and realistic.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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