Christopher Hogwood has found himself a dream cast here, with even the smallest roles taken by big names. There are a couple of surprises along the way, such as the underage First Sailor (sung by a slightly quavery treble) and the cross-dressing Sorceress, here taken by a bass. Still David Thomas cackles and machinates with the best of them, so don't let that put you off.
At under an hour this mini-masterpiece should be in every opera-lover's collection. There are scores of versions available but I tend to favour those with a Dido of really starry vocal quality given that her torments lie at the heart of the opera and all other considerations are secondary: Purcell and his librettist Nathum Tate make little of Aeneas's psychology and the other roles are all supplementary, reflecting upon Dido's plight, even to the extent of some suggesting that the Sorceress is her alter ego.
Although written for the configuration of two violins and continuo, Dietrich Buxtehude's Seven Sonatas, Op. 1, are not trio sonatas in the usual sense. They refer back to the older type of Italian ensemble sonata, with contrasting short sections following in rapid succession rather than the three- or four-movement sonata or dance suite types. Buxtehude came at the end of this tradition, which by 1694, when these sonatas were first published, was beginning to give way to newer Italian types in points further south.
Originally conceived as a play with musical accompaniment, Henry Purcell's 1691 King Arthur endures on the strength of its adventurous harmonies and appealing orchestration. Laying aside the Camelot legends, poet John Dryden framed the tale as the Christian King Arthur defending England against the pagan Saxons, and added colorful visitations by Greek and Norse deities to the plot.
King's Consort produces another brilliant interpretation and performance of works by Henry Purcell. This collection of Purcell's solo secular songs (though some, as the previous review mentions, have short duets within them) is superbly sung all around. A note on the vocals, they aren't the most "early music" vocals you'll find. The singers all certainly demand attention, but for me, I think that's perfectly fine. The very subdued singing that some take to Baroque music seems to detract from the emotion of these pieces–emotion that is clearly intended from the text painting. However, they also aren't sung in an unnecessarily grandiose way or with too much drive. Frankly, it's just right.