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"The Purcell Brothers: Daniel & Henry Purcell - Chamber Music"

Ensemble Mediolanum
rec: Oct 16 - 19, 2006, Berlin-Lankwitz, Studio Gärtnerstraße
Christophorus - CHR 77284 (© 2008) (58'54")

Daniel Purcell (c1664-1717): Chaconne in a minor; Sonata I in F [2]; Sonata II in d minor [2]; Sonata III in C [2]; Sonata VI in g minor [2]; Toccata in a minor; Henry Purcell (1659-1695): A Ground in Gamut in g (Z 645); A New Ground in e minor (ZT 682); A New Irish Tune in G (Z 646); Air en Bourée; Ayre in g minor (after Z 611,9); Hornpipe in e minor (Z 607,4); Hornpipe in g minor (Z 629,1b); Jig in g minor (ZT 686); Suite in D/d minor (Z 667); Toccata in A (attr) (ZD 229); Trumpet Tune in C (ZT 698); Trumpet Tune in C 'Cibell' (ZT 678)

(Sources: [1] Henry Purcell, A Choice Collection of Lessons, 1696; [2] Daniel Purcell, 6 Sonata's or Solos, 1698)

Sabine Ambos, recorder; Felix Koch, cello; Wiebke Weidanz, harpsichord

Whereas the recorder during the second half of the 17th century was gradually replaced by the transverse flute by composers it remained a popular instrument among amateurs both of the aristocracy and of the middle class whose members became better educated and started to play a role in cultural life. Its popularity in England was especially remarkable which led to a large number of publications of music for recorder. This repertoire consisted of original pieces for the recorder as well as arrangements of music originally scored for different instruments. It is probably an indication of the amateur status of the recorder that those composers who wrote specifically for the instrument are hardly known today. In the booklet Karsten Erik Ose mentions composers like William Croft and Andrew Parcham, indeed names which very seldom appear on programmes of contemporary baroque ensembles, not even of ensembles which concentrate on music for recorder.

The German Ensemble Mediolanum has had the splendid idea of devoting a whole disc to the music of the Purcell brothers. Henry Purcell nowadays belongs to the most popular and most admired composers, but his younger brother Daniel is hardly known. However, he was a pretty succesful composer, although his fame came mainly after his brother had died. Of the two he is the only one who composed original music for the recorder. Therefore the pieces by Henry Purcell on this disc are arrangements, mainly of pieces originally written for the harpsichord. These are interspersed by original keyboard works by Henry Purcell as well as one by his brother.

Like already said there was a large market for music for recorder, and therefore it doesn't come as a surprise that a considerable part of the printed recorder music consisted of arrangements. One could say that this is comparable to the printing of orchestral music and opera extracts for piano solo in the 19th century. It was the only way to play the music which was performed in the theatre. Henry Purcell himself gave the example: many of his harpsichord pieces are arrangements of songs or instrumental movements from his theatre music. Arranging this music for a combination of recorder and harpsichord is not something modern players do as they look for an extension of their repertoire. In the years 1706 - 1708 John Walsh printed 'The Division Flute' which contains Purcell's Sebell, a piece written for harpsichord, in an arrangement for recorder and harpsichord.

An interesting aspect of musical life in England around 1700 was the coexistence of Italian, French and even German styles. This was the result of the immigration of musicians from around Europe who found exployment in England and brought their own style with them. In addition, during the reign of Cromwell King Charles II had stayed in France and had become very appreciative of French music. After his return he liked French music to find its entrance in English musical life as well. In Henry Purcell's oeuvre both the French and the Italian taste are well represented.

Daniel Purcell also was influenced by the Italian style as the sonatas played here show. Only the three first sonatas were originally written for the recorder, the Sonata VI in g minor was composed for violin. They follow the pattern of the sonata da chiesa of Arcangelo Corelli. In 1713 he published a collection of cantatas in Italian style on English texts. At the same time his activities in writing music for the theatre in which he had been very successful came to a halt because of the growing popularity of Italian opera.

The programme on this disc has been intelligently put together, creating a maximum of variety by mixing pieces with recorder and harpsichord and original keyboard works. The performances are of a high standard. The recorder produces a beautiful sound which only now and then seems a bit stressed when played forte. The harpsichord is also a beautiful instrument, a copy of a Ruckers - the kind of instrument which was quite popular in England. In general I find the arrangements well done; less satisfying are those pieces which are first played by the harpsichord alone with the recorder joining it at a later stage. This way their coherence is a bit lost.

In the interpretation of Daniel Purcell's sonatas I had liked Sabine Ambos to differentiate more between the notes. She tends to play too much legato and the unstressed notes could have been taken a bit shorter. Wiebke Weidanz plays some very nice ornamentation, in particular in A New Ground in e minor which has been recorded twice, first with harpsichord - as Purcell wrote it - and then in an arrangement for recorder and harpsichord.

To sum up: this disc sheds an interesting light on an aspect of English musical life around 1700 which is receiving too little attention. I would like the ensemble - or any other - to explore the repertoire for the recorder of this time and place further. The composers of recorder music of that time - some of them mentioned before - are certainly worth to be explored. Once the late David Munrow recorded some of their music but not much has happened since. The programme notes by Karsten Erik Ose are well-written, but unfortunately the record company has failed to add the numbers of Purcell's compositions in Zimmermann's catalogue of his works.

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Mediolanum

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