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Concert reviews

Henry PURCELL (1659 - 1695): "If music be the food of love"

Julia Doyle, sopranoa
Retrospect Trio
concert: April 25, 2013, Zeist, Church of the Moravian Brethren

If music be the food of love (Z 379)a; King Arthur(Z 628) (Fairest Isle)a; Now that the sun hath veiled his light (An Evening Hymn on a Ground) (Z 193)a; O Solitude (Z 406)a; Oh! fair Cedaria, hide those eyes (Z 402)a; Pausanias, the Betrayer of his country (Z 585) (Sweeter than roses)a; Sonatas of three parts, 1683: Sonata I in g minor (Z 790); Sonata III in d minor (Z 792); Sonata X in A (Z 799); Sonata XII in D (Z 801); Sonatas of four parts, 1697: Sonata VI in g minor (Z 807); Sonata VII in C (Z 808); Tell me, some pitying angel (The Blessed Virginís Expostulation) (Z 196)a; The Indian Queen (Z 630) (I attempt from Love's sickness to fly in vain)a

Matthew Truscott, Sophie Gent, violin; Jonathan Manson, viola da gamba; Matthew Halls, harpsichord, organ

There is never a dull moment in a concert with music by Henry Purcell. It seems that he just wasn't able to compose anything mediocre. Every piece from his pen is at least good, often outstanding or even outright brilliant. Some specimens of his art were presented in a concert by the Retrospect Trio, oddly comprising four musicians, and the soprano Julia Doyle. The concert was part of a tour by the ensemble through the Netherlands. I heard the concert which took place at the church of the Moravian Brethren in Zeist, a town east of Utrecht.

The core of the programme were the sonatas from two of Purcell's main collections of instrumental music, the sonatas in three and four parts. Despite the difference in the titles of these two collections, they both include trio sonatas for two violins and bc. They show that Purcell was under strong Italian influence. The theatrical character of that style fit the sense of drama which was part of Purcell's musical personality. In the first half of the 18th century the music scene in England was dominated by Handel, whose theatrical instincts came to the fore in every genre to which he contributed. That is the case with Purcell as well: the sonatas are characterised by strong contrasts between the various movements, and every single movement has its own twists and turns. Part of the dramatic character of the sonatas are also the daring harmonic progressions which not seldom lead to biting dissonants.

The approach of the Retrospect Trio is almost un-British. There is no sign of that typical British restraint. The contrasts and the many surprises Purcell has installed for players and audiences are fully explored. The players were not afraid of strongly contrasting tempi and sharp dynamic accents. Their highly theatrical performances linked the instrumental music to the vocal items which were sung by Julia Doyle.

King Arthur. In other pieces the influence of the more declamatory Italian style is unmistakable. To this category belong 'Sweeter than roses' from Pausanias, and O Solitude. The latter is based on a basso ostinato and composing music on such a repeated bass pattern was very popular in England, but also a device frequently practised in Italy. Purcell's sense of drama comes to the fore in some of his sacred compositions as well. The best specimen on the programme was Tell me some pitying angel, also known as The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation. It is quite astonishing how Purcell is able to create a complete drama within a couple of minutes. In this piece his skill in setting a text to music is equally impressive.

Julia Doyle found exactly the right approach to each single piece. Her singing was every inch as dramatic as the playing of her colleagues. She went deeply into the songs and pencilled their character with great precision. Part of her communicative skills is also her excellent delivery, which made sure every word was clearly audible. The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation was definitely the highlight of the evening. It is a piece which can send shivers down your spine, and that is exactly what it did in Ms Doyle's performance. The concert closed with one of Purcell's most beautiful sacred works, The Evening Hymn. Ms Doyle demonstrated once again her expressive capabilities; the purity of her voice was a particularly great asset here.

This was definitely one of the most exciting concerts of the season.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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