"If anyone has benefitted from the reversion in the last three or so decades to period instruments and historical reconstruction, it is Henry Purcell. Before, he was merely great, the peerless word-setter in the English language, a virtuoso of boundless range, a professional composer whose offical commissions were always imbued with personality and invention. But period instrumentation has added to this a greater depth, an other-worldly texture of sound. With his intricate, multi-part vocal writing, his preference for low, rumbling instruments such as the bass viol and the strange and remarkable theorbo, as well as his often sombre and low-key subject matter and treatment, Purcell creates a round, glowing, humming sound as pregnantly full as dub reggae. This has an extraordinary effect on the listener. Whereas Bach, with his mathematical abstractions, sounds universal and timeless, Purcell's music takes the listener back 300 years, back to different ways of thinking about, feeling about and addressing things we still think etc. about today - death, love, friendship. The emotion is timeless, but the music's beauty is alien, THEIRS, hence its preciousness. A lot of intelligence has gone into the unity of this compilation, beginning with two Welcomes (to the dawn and to the listener, in this case a King), and ending with thoughts of evening, death and a Baroque 'Thank you for the music'. These are bright, fanfare-like works, but the predominant mood is slow, ruminative, quiet. The selection covers the wide range of Purcell's oeuvre, from opera and funeral marches to secular songs and odes, and includes his most famous vocal works - Dido's Lament from Dido and Aeneas, sung by Gillian Fisher, and never more evocative of pagan loss and death; the massive 'Bell Anthem', with its ingenious opening symphony and joyful antiphon; and a miraculously serene 'Evening Hymn', Dido's opposite, death indicating hope, the treble voice swirling over the heavy ground bass like the soul released from the inert body. it might seem quixotic to choose highlights from an exemplary collection of highlights, but the entry of the strings washing over the serene repetition of 'Be Welcome then, great Sir' always makes my heart stop still, while the musical picture of 'Bold Honour', the 'noisy Nothing, stalking shade', blocking the poet's amorous intentions in 'She loves and confesses too', adds a chilling hint of life's transience to a bouyantly bawdy song."
A wonderful glimpse into King's anthology of Purcell's music
darragh o'donoghue | 03/10/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This disc collects some of the highlights from Robert King's monumental anthology of Purcell's music - 19 volumes of songs, odes, services and anthems; plus additional discs featuring solo songs and duets. This disc is a perfect introduction to Purcell for those new to baroque. It is also a help to those who are familiar with Purcell but can't afford to buy the entire anthology, and thus have to select the volumes they most want. Helpfully, the booklet lists all of King's Purcell recordings with detailed information on what they contain. I confess, I myself don't own all of them. But on the basis of the ones I do own I can safely assert that Mr. King is one of the best interpreters of Purcell's music; and that his musicians and soloists turn in performances which are unlikely to be soon bettered. Many of the performers make repeated appearances throughout the series, helping King to knit together a consistent and homogeneous presentation of some of the best baroque music in the world. The extraordinary James Bowman is present in virtually every volume. So are such well-known English baroque performers as Gillian Fisher and Michael George. Frequently encountered are Rogers Covey-Crump and Charles Daniels, both of The Hilliard fame. Some of the less frequent participants, however, are not to be slighted. The sweet-voiced high tenor Mark Padmore appears in a couple of pieces here and there, but leaves an indelible imprint on the entire series by singing the glorious "Odes and Welcome Songs" finale "O how blest is the isle" from the ode Why Are All the Muses Mute (vol. 8 - my favorite). Luckily, this wonderful piece is included on this disc. But EVERY piece on this disc will take your breath away, as will (or would) many other Purcell's compositions which are beyond the scope of this little collection but which you may want to discover. Some of the best Purcell recordings out there, in addition to King, include: Hail! Bright Cecilia (Herreweghe); King Arthur (Christie); and Fairy Queen (Christie, Christophers or Norrington)."
The beauty of the songs brings tears to my eyes
Geza Z. Madarasz | LOS ANGELES, CA USA | 08/21/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Absolutely beautiful baroque music! The arrangament, singing and instrumentation is superb. It is too bad that Henry Purcell is not as widely known as Bach, because he should be recognized equally well."The Sparrow and the Gentle dove" is alone worth the price of the album! I can not stop playing it!"
A well-chosen selection of superb performances
C. S. Roy | Falls Church, Virginia | 12/04/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Before listening to this recording, I was skeptical of claims that Henry Purcell was a great composer, much less the greatest composer that England had ever produced. Robert King and the performers on "Essential Purcell" make a fine case for Henry Purcell's worth. I agree with what the music fan from Charlottesville had to say about this CD, and have only a few remarks to add. First, Mr. King's taste in selecting from Purcell's enourmous oeuvre contributes, for me, as much to the value of this CD as the high quality of the individual performances. The included excerpts cover a range of expression than I found astonishing, given my experience with a few previously heard recordings of focused portions of Purcell's work. Second, listeners not familiar with this composer might want to know that Purcell is one of those whose merit is not so much in producing "absolute music" (although he is marvelously creative) as in producing music that empowers narrative content. Some ability to identify with Christian faith, Restoration patriotism, romantic classicism, etc. is needed to appreciate these works to their full extent."
The Finest Purcell available
Mark Swinton | 04/25/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Whenever Hyperion releases a sampler CD, it is invariably of the highest quality. On this disc, they have put together nearly 80 minutes of the best Purcell tracks yet preserved, all taken from their vast collection of Purcell recordings and all under the direction of the multi-talented Robert King. Each track is a treasure unto itself. The list of soloists reads like a "Who's Who" of great names in Early Music- special mention must go to countertenors Michael Chance and James Bowman, who bring their own inimitable sparkle to solo songs and to the brilliant duet "Sound the Trumpet." There could be no better introduction to Purcell than this disc. It really is the finest recorded Purcell available!"