Henry Purcell Royal and Ceremonial Odes KingHenry Purcell
Royal and Ceremonial Odes

SOLOISTS: Gillian Fisher, Tessa Bonner, James Bowman, Michael Chance, Charles Daniels, John Mark Ainsley, Michael George, Charles Pott

The Choir of New College Oxford
Chorus Master: Edward Higginbottom
The King’s Consort
Robert King, conductor

Hyperion, 1995

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The album Royal and Ceremonial Odes includes three odes by Henry Purcell, one dedicated to a public ceremony, the other two to an anniversary: they are Welcome to all the pleasures, the first of Purcell’s odes dedicated to St. Cecilia, performed for the first time on November 22, 1683, and two odes for the birthday of Queen Mary II, Now does the glorious day appear and Arise, my muse, performed for the first time on April 30, 1689 and 1690, respectively.

The ode for St. Cecilia’s day was commissioned to Purcell, who until then had been engaged in the composition of music for the royal family, by the Musical Society of London, a group of professional and amateur musicians who wanted to celebrate with a festival the patroness of their art. 1683 was just the first year of this festival.

The two odes for Queen Mary, on their part, are a turning point in Purcell’s production because the advent of the Orange to the throne determinates a musical regression in the London court and forces the composer to seek alternative commissions. The first ode for Queen Mary is Now does the glorious day appear, which Purcell orchestrated for a string ensemble with the addition of a “third violin”. The ode of the following year, Arise, my muse is instead characterized by the addition of oboes and trumpets in the orchestra, innovations that Purcell will use in all his  odes except Love’s goddess sure was blind (1692) and Great parent, hail (1694). The two odes presented here are characterized by a French character.

In Royal and Ceremonial Odes, Robert King conducts the orchestra The King’s Consort and the Choir of New College Oxford and offers the opportunity to hear music that, beyond its celebratory intentions, is characterized by a grace not austere but nevertheless noble, which combines brilliant and ethereal elements, the expression of which is entrusted to acute voices, the favourites of that time.

The music is extremely measured: I remember as an example the finale of Welcome to all the pleasures, which is accomplished with a delicate refinement. For this reason, it is not surprising to find pieces like By beauteous softness mixed with majesty (for Now does the glorious day appear), in which the slow time and the acute voice of the soloist (a countertenor) give the listener a moment of extremely melancholic sweetness, next to others, especially choral pieces, characterized by great joy, as Ye sons of music to raise your voices high from Arise, my muse.

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