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Imaginative Program Emphasizes Purcell's Genius

Cullen Theater, Wortham Center
11/20/2009 -  
Thomas Tomkins: A Sad Pavan "for these distracted times"
John Coperario: Mourning Song VII "Foe of Mankind" – Funeral Tears VII "O poor distracted World"
Matthew Locke: The Lord hear thee in the Day of Trouble – Fantasia in A Minor
Henry Purcell: Chacony in G Minor, Z. 730 – Let mine Eyes run down with Tears – I will give thanks unto Thee, o Lord – In guilty Night
John Blow: I said in the cutting off of my Days
William Croft: Rejoyce in the Lord
Godfrey Finger: Sonata in B-flat Major (Adagio-Allegro) – Sonata in F Major (Grave-Allegro, Adagio-Presto)
Martin Peerson: O let me at Thy Footstool fall
John Milton: If that a Sinner's Sighs
John Jenkins: Fantasia in B-flat Major
Tiolphus Thopull: O Lord come pity my Complaint

Les Voix Baroques, Mercury Baroque, Alexander Weimann (conductor)

Members of Mercury Baroque (© George Hixson)

Mercury Baroque and Les Voix Baroques gave excellent performances of an imaginative selection of works designed to contextualize the musical creations of Henry Purcell, in celebration of the great British composer's 350th birth year. Both ensembles possess the essential quality of individual virtuosity and collective vision, and the entire concert, most of which consisted of rarities, showcased the performers' excellence and the depth of British music around Purcell's life.

Alexander Weimann, leading from the portative organ, designed a program that led from sorrow to joy and back again. The opening set served as a fine introduction of the instrumentalists and vocalists on stage. Tomkins' Pavan presented Weimann, the leader of the pack, followed immediately by Coperario's Foe of Mankind, adding several of the other performers, and culminating in a grand tutti in Locke's The Lorde hear thee in the Day of Trouble. This trio of works flowed nicely both in terms of gradually increasing performing forces and as a chronological survey encapsulating Purcell's Tudor forbears and his contemporaries. The entire program contained attractive groupings for works, with occasional individual numbers. Especially enjoyable was the first set of the second half, where excerpts from instrumental sonatas by Godfrey Finger were interspersed with short motets by Peerson and Milton. The instrumental works culminated in a stunningly virtuosic recorder performance by Kathryn Montoya, which was preceded by Milton's If that a Sinner's Sighs, whose gorgeously melancholy mosaic of counterpoint was one of the high points of the concert.

High enough praised cannot be given to all performers involved. Mercury Baroque's concertmaster, Jonathan Godfrey, and Oliver Mercer, tenor of Les Voix Baroques, stood out simply because they had the most to do. There was not a weak link in the entire production, from the sopranos' effortless coloratura passages to Charles Weaver's perfectly judged contributions on theorbo. The balletic interaction of the performers was visually entrancing, and it was clear that everyone on stage enjoyed and understood every note of the music, even when they were sitting a piece out.

In the end, the program did prompt one to wonder if Purcell, the composer on the program favored most by posterity, produced "better" works. In some cases, the answer was clearly in the birthday celebrant's favor. This was most clear when considering his setting of the meeting between Saul, Enod and Samuel with Robert Ramsey's, whose conception was by no means bad, but Purcell's exhibited more memorable melodic lines and an inevitable, sophisticated handling of chromaticism and dissonance that added more drama and intrigue to the scene. That said, there were some undeservedly neglected masterpieces on the program, notably the aforementioned Milton motet and John Blow's I said in the cutting off of my Days. Onstage, this was clearly not an issue, as each piece was rendered with a consistently high level of care and passion.

Marcus Karl Maroney



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