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.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first 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 use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa