Monday 9 June 2014

Delights at every turn in beautiful performances of Purcell’s Ten Sonatas in Four Parts from The King’s Consort on a new release from Vivat

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) , one of the greatest of English composers, died at the early age of around 35 or 36 years. His hastily written will seems to indicate a sudden serious illness. Certainly his widow, Frances Purcell, left with their two surviving children, would have needed to make the most of any income from her late husband’s manuscripts. It was she that, in 1697, oversaw the publishing of Ten Sonatas in Four Parts, almost certainly manuscripts gathered together from an earlier period probably from the 1680’s.

A new release from Vivat Music this month (June 2014) features The King’s Consort directed by Robert King in a new recording of the Ten Sonatas.


Robert King plays a chamber organ by Robin Jennings, 1989 after seventeenth century English examples and a harpsichord by Malcolm Greenhalgh, London , 2013 after Carlo Grimaldi, Messina, 1697

He is joined by Cecilia Bernardini playing a violin by Camillus Camilli, Mantua, 1743, Huw Daniel playing a violin by Alessandro Mezzadri, c. 1720, Susanne Heinrich playing a bass viol by Merion Attwood, 1999 after an anonymous seventeenth century instrument and Lynda Sayce playing a 14 course French theorbo in D by Ivo Magherini, Bremen, 2003 after an anonymous conversion, c.1700, of a bass lute by Wendelio Venere, c.1600.

There has been some discussion over the suitability of organ or harpsichord for the basso continuo part. It has been speculated that the sparse fingering was more suitable to the organ. Certainly it was Purcell’s intention that his earlier 12 sonatas in three parts could include an organ or harpsichord. Here Robert King changes from organ to harpsichord according to sonata.

The sequence of these pieces has also been re-arranged into a more satisfying order by Robert King, the original publication having, apparently, been somewhat arbitrarily chosen by the composer’s widow. Hence the catalogue numbering of each sonata is now performed out of numerical sequence. All are in two movements except the final sonata, Z807.

Sonata in A minor, Z804 is beautifully poised and phrased with a fine blend of string sonorities in the Grave opening before a lovely flowing tempo for the Largo, leading smoothly into the Adagio of the second movement with the chamber organ of Robert King richly underpinning the textures. There is a lovely Canzona, a sparkling, lithe Vivace before the final Grave.

Sonata in D minor, Z805 opens with a melancholy Adagio in which the Kings Consort find much depth and feeling, revealing just how much variety of mood Purcell was able to contain in these relatively short pieces. After the opening Adagio there is a terrifically vibrant Canzona, again with such fine textures before the Adagio conclusion. The second movement has a joyful Vivace with such spot on ensemble and a feeling of spontaneous music making, leading to a beautifully poised Largo.

Sonata in G minor, Z806 has an appealing little Andante to which this ensemble bring much feeling before the livelier Canzona. The chamber organ adds a lovely touch to the Largo of the following movement with, again much variety of feeling within the Largo – Adagio – Presto – Allegro – Adagio layout of this five minute movement. There are some terrific sonorities in the rising theme of the concluding Adagio.

What sparkling performances the Kings Consort give in the opening Vivace of the Sonata in C major, Z808, with a Largo and Grave of exquisite form and tempo leading directly into the second movement Canzona with nicely sprung rhythms, nicely pointed up by Robert King’s harpsichord. The same can be said of the Allegro that precedes a beautifully paced Adagio.

These players bring so much sparkle to the faster sections as in this Allegro of the Sonata in F major, Z810 before the finely played Largo where the blend of instrumental sonorities in the lovely descending theme are beautifully done. With the second movement, an incisive Canzona precedes a finely drawn Grave, so melancholy in feel before the buoyant Allegro.

Another of Purcell’s fine Adagios opens the Sonata in D major, Z811 with a lovely balance of instrumental sound before the Canzona, with more feeling of spontaneity. The Grave of the following movement is exquisitely done, with Robert King knowing just how to bring the haunting quality of this music. In contrast the Largo is light and airy with a fast flowing Allegro to conclude.

Sonata in B minor, Z802 has another fine Adagio before the Canzona where Robert King’s chamber organ adds a lovely texture to the sound. The second movement Largo, with its descending, melancholy theme, seems to recall moments of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas especially as beautifully done as here. There is a light textured Vivace and a fine Grave to conclude.

Sonata in G minor, Z809 brings a finely drawn Adagio before the fast flowing Canzona with a second movement Grave exquisitely laid out by the King’s Consort, contrasting finely with the following Largo. A short Vivace with some fine playing from these instrumentalists concludes.

Glorious sonorities abound in the Adagio of the Sonata in E flat major, Z803 before the lovely, flowing Canzona that has some terrific string flourishes. The finely done Grave of the following movement precedes a Largo and a rhythmically buoyant Allegro.

The single movement Sonata in G minor, Z807, marked Adagio, is a finely written Chaconne with the Kings Consort drawing out all the instrumental detail and intricacies especially well. There are so many, fine, little touches as well as some pretty virtuoso playing towards the end, making this a very fine conclusion to this terrific disc.

There are delights at every turn in these beautifully performed sonatas finely recorded at The Menuhin Hall, Stoke d'Abernon, Surrey, England. There are excellent booklet notes by Robert King.

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