Compilations are highly useful in understanding the works of the inexhaustibly tuneful British composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695). He had a few big hits, like the Funeral Music for Queen Mary (which is included here) and the opera Dido and Aeneas (which isn't). But much of his best music is scattered around in small bits, residing within genres that are rather odd from today's perspective. Purcell spent much of his short adult life as a theater composer, and his incidental music, for example, is filled with perfect miniatures…
"…But now, in the middle of the 2000s, they're back, and they've brought with them an even more wonderful recording of Purcell's funeral music. It's more wonderful because, good as the Collins recording sounded, this Coro recording sounds even better: deeper, richer, warmer, and even more detailed. It's more wonderful because, good as the earlier performances were, these performances sound even better: more passionate, more precise, and even more powerful. And it's more wonderful because while this is exactly the same recording that appeared on Collins, it somehow sounds more wonderful released on the Coro label. How this is possible is impossible to know, but that it does is indisputable. If you don't have Harry Christophers and the Sixteen's Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, here it is again. This time, don't miss it."
Like so many artists today, John Eliot Gardiner has recorded his work more than once, and as also so often happens, the remake isn't as good as the original. Not only did Gardiner's first version include a more interesting coupling (the Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline, which Handel later adapted to become part one of Israel in Egypt), but it had a much better lineup of soloists. Here he suffers from a surfeit of strangulated British countertenors–one of the more frightening breeds of musical animal that has sprung up as a result of the authentic instrument movement, never mind that Handel almost never wrote for one. Enough said–if you want Gardiner in this music, then get him on Erato. –David Hurwitz
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Andrew Parrott and his Taverner Consort, Choir, and Players have made some of the finest Purcell recordings to have appeared since the period-instrument revival began; unfortunately, most of those discs had been out of print for years. Happily, Virgin has reissued some of Parrott's best work on this reasonably priced two-for-one release. The performances aren't just exemplary, they're something of a landmark: in them Parrott pioneered the now-standard practice of using high tenors rather than falsettists on some of Purcell's low-lying "countertenor" parts. (One example is "Sound the trumpet," a duet for "high" and "low" countertenors from Purcell's ode Come, ye sons of art, sung by falsettist Timothy Wilson and high tenor John Mark Ainsley.) … –Matthew Westphal
The assassination of Gustav III, Sweden's "theatre king", ended one of the most brilliant periods in the country's culture. And it was followed by a ceremony fully on a par with the tragic event itself: a kind of heroic opera about the Third of the Gustavs, staged in the royal burial church, Riddarholmskyrkan. Joseph Martin Kraus, the greatest of the Gustavian composers and royal Kapellmeister, conducted his Funeral Cantata. Strongly personal in its despair, wrath, and grief, this highly dramatic creation was the joint work of three of the age's leading minds, in music, poetry and décor.