Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Imperfect, but impressive, 2 July 2001
This review is from: Purcell - Dido and Aeneas (Le Concert Spirituel/Niquet) (Audio CD)
Since no "mainstream" recording of Purcell's miniature masterpiece has ever proved altogether satisfactory, the opportunity has always existed for an independent offering to steal the crown. While there are quite a few aspects of this performance which could be improved upon, as a whole it is probably as good as any. Most of the performers are French, which is noticeable, marginally, for the soloists and, rather more prominently, for the choir. It is no problem at all for the orchestra, of course, and the instrumentalists sound entirely at home in Purcell's idiom. Through no fault of theirs, they are arguably a trifle recessed when supporting the singers and brought to the fore artificially when playing alone. My only criticism of the orchestra is that it sounds, on occasion, rather more ponderous than it should. In common with many other recordings of this work, this one falls down in Act Two, when the performers decide to "camp it up" in a big way. Compared to other performances, the distractions in this one are relatively minor, though still irritating. The Sorceress, sung by the same soloist as Dido, places excessive emphasis on the words "flame" and "hate". The word "hate" is one of the most expressive in the English language and barely needs stress; it is almost onomatopoeic. The soloist here is anglophone and should know that. Also in Act Two, the chorus, generally admirable, suddenly sounds as though it has hired Inspector Clouseau as voice coach. One way or another, most recordings of "Dido and Aeneas" make a hash of this chorus ("In our deep-vaulted cell"), but I live in hope of hearing one which does the job properly. In favour of the chorus, I can say that its diction is excellent throughout. The role of Aeneas is hard to exploit, since the character is rather bland. When Peter Harvey responds "Tonight?" to the first apparition of the Spirit, he does sound rather like someone consulting his pocket computer, but, elsewhere he is as good as any Aeneas I have heard, unfailingly musical and as expressive as his role allows. Combining the roles of Dido and the Sorceress may be inspired by the example of Greek tragedy, or by simple poverty, but it works quite well. Laura Pudwell is impressive in both roles, eschewing (mostly) the tiresome histrionics which other performers bring to the Sorceress, but managing to differentiate audibly between the two characters. Perhaps her performance of Dido's Lament is not quite as affecting as Lynne Dawson's recent account, but it is still very fine. I don't know of any other piece of music which concludes with a chorus to rival "With drooping wings"; the performance here by Le Concert Spirituel is sublime, as Purcell's music deserves.
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