Purcell: Ayres & Songs from Orpheus Britannicus; Harmonia Sacra & complete organ music

Jill Feldman, Nigel North, Sarah Cunningham, Davitt Moroney
140:00 (2 CDs in a card sleeve)
Arcana A430 (c) 1992/93

This major collection of music by Henry Purcell features one CD of music for soprano, lute and viol drawn from the publication of the composer’s songs, posthumously compiled and brought to print by his brother Daniel. The second CD consists of music for soprano and organ from Purcell’s Harmonia Sacra  and includes all the composer’s music for solo organ. One way or another we spend a long time in the company of soprano Jill Feldman, and, while she is a very experienced and respected early music soprano, I have some reservations about her voice production which I found laid bare in these performances. She is capable of a beautifully pure sound – as, for example, at the beginning of Music for a while  – but more often produces a more opaque sound, which I find less attractive. Although never less than expressive in her singing, I also find that she can sometimes undercut notes. Having said that, if you don’t share my reservations, there is much to enjoy in these recordings, where Ms Feldman is very ably supported by three of the leading instrumentalists in their fields. The performances can certainly never be accused of lacking energy and vitality, and it is good to hear some unfamiliar numbers as well as the established Purcell favourites. In the second CD of the set Davitt Moroney plays a late 17th-century organ by Thomas Dallam in the parish church of Saint-Miliau in Guimiliau in Finistère, which produces a wonderfully authentic range of sounds in the voluntaries as well as in the accompaniments to the various hymns from Harmonia Sacra. I think, too, that Ms Feldman sounds more convincing in this repertoire and this acoustic. It was while listening to this second CD that I found myself yet again wondering at the remarkable contribution made to English music by Henry Purcell.

D. James Ross