Monday 12 August 2013

A release from Glossa with Le Concert Spirituel and a strong line-up of soloists surely provides one of the finest recordings of Dido and Aeneas available.

Henry Purcell (1659-1695)  was born the year before the restoration of the monarchy which brought much social change. The Puritanism of Oliver Cromwell lost its momentum and theatres reopened after having been closed during the Commonwealth. Perhaps the most successful of operas produced during the reign of Charles II was John Blow’s (c.1649-1708) Venus and Adonis. Purcell was extremely prolific in writing incidental music for the theatre but Dido and Aeneas (c.1689) was his first opera, as well as his only all-sung dramatic work. It vies with Blow’s Venus and Adonis, to which it owes much, as one of the earliest English operas.

Purcell’s other works in an operatic vein are Prophetess or The History of Dioclesian or Dioclesian, opera with dialogue (1690), King Arthur or The British Worthy, opera with dialogue (1691), The Fairy-Queen, opera with dialogue (1692), The Indian Queen, opera with dialogue (1695) and The Tempest or The Enchanted Island, opera with dialogue (c. 1695) though in these "dramatick operas" or semi-operas the principal characters do not generally sing.

Dido and Aeneas was written to a libretto by Nahum Tate (1652-1715) who was to become Poet Laureate in 1692 and performed in 1689 in co-operation with Josias Priest, a dancing-master who ran a boarding school for gentlewomen in Leicester Fields and, in 1680, started a similar school in Chelsea, London where he hosted operas, including John Blow's Venus and Adonis. Whether this was the first performance is open to doubt given the minor venue involved.

Dido and Aeneas tells the story of the love of Dido, Queen of Carthage, for the Trojan hero Aeneas, and her despair when he abandons her. It comprises a prologue and three acts.

Glossa Music  have just issued a recording by Le Concert Sprituel conducted by Hervé Niquet  with a strong cast consisting of Laura Pudwell (Dido and Sorceress) , Peter Harvey (Aeneas) , Salomé Heller (Belinda and First Witch) , Marie-Louise Duthoit (Second Woman and Second Witch) , Nicolas Maire (Sailor) and Matthew White (The Spirit).

GCD C81601

I must admit to a particular admiration for the work that Hervé Niquet and his fine band have achieved in the past and this release is no exception.

The Overture to Act I is transparent and vibrant before Salome Huller enters as a fine Belinda in Shake the cloud from off your brow. Ah! Belinda brings Laura Pudwell as Dido with a striking voice with lovely timbres right across the range, particularly in the lower register where she is quite wonderful in this lovely aria. Throughout there are lovely sounds from Le Concert Sprituel. As she continues with Whence could so much virtue spring she has such a natural way with all the little decorations, so flexible. Salome Huller and Marie-Louise Duthoit as the Second Woman blend well as do the splendid choir of La Concert Spiritual.

There is a particularly strong Aeneas in Peter Harvey as he sings When royal fair, shall I be blessed. In To the Hills and the vales there is some terrific singing and playing from the choir and band, vibrant and full of panache.

Act II opens with a really theatrical Scene 1, Scene The Cave Laura Pudwell returns as the Sorceress with a strong characterful, theatrical performance using her voice to the full to characterise the part. This is real operatic acting, no bland period piece. Just as characterful are the witches, Salomé Heller and Marie-Louise Duthoit singing But ere we this perform, terrifically done. The chorus of Le Concert Sprituel are equally effective with In our deep vaulted cell with some great ‘echo’ effects.

In Scene II, The Grove when Salomé Heller Haller returns as Belinda in Thanks to these lonesome vales she is in lovely voice, with the blend of choir and band beautifully done. Marie-Louise Duthoit as the second woman has a strong, youthful, attractive voice. When Peter Harvey again appears as Aeneas in Behold, upon my bending spear he is again firm and full voiced. Laura Pudwell as Dido is superb, flexible and rich with a great choral contribution from the chorus.

When he sings Stay, Prince, and hear great Jove’s command, Nicolas Maire as The Spirit is another fine voice, ideally placed with Aeneas’ full rich tones, always giving due attention to every emotional turn.

Act III Scene I, The Ships has a natural sounding Nicolas Mair as the Sailor in Come away, fellow sailors, your anchors be weighing followed by Le Concert Spirituel giving a terrific sailors’ dance. What a gloriously beautiful band Le Concert Sprituel is. The Sorceress, two witches and chorus of witches are theatrical and musical, full of character when they return with a terrific The Witches Dance with the lovely timbres of Le Concert Spirituel. There is a lovely passage with some terrific playing from the recorder.

Dido, Belinda and Aeneas all giving lovely dark, passionate performances after Dido sings Your consul all is urg’d in vain where Dido is particularly wonderful. There is a lovely choral Great minds against themselves conspire leading so well into Thy Hand Belinda darkness shades me (Dido’s Lament), a rich, heart rending performance, nothing of the overly pure, ethereal but real human passion, beautifully finding the heart of this lovely piece. Really quiet affecting. The choir have a lovely controlled sonorous sound in the final With drooping wings ye Cupid’s come, superbly done, bringing this fine Dido to a close.

With a first rate recording made in May, 2000 in Notre Dame du Liban, Paris, excellent notes and full English texts, surely this is one of the finest Dido’s currently available. 

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