Purcell: Dido & Aeneas

Rachael Lloyd Dido, Robert Davies Aeneas, Elin Manahan Thomas Belinda, Roderick Morris Sorceress, Eloise Irving woman 2, witch 1 & spirit, Jenne Harper Witch 2, Miles Golding drunken sailor, Armonico Consort, Christopher Monks
50:45
signum classics SIGCD417

I’m quite glad that I’ll never have to conduct a recording of D & A. What on earth do you do that hasn’t been done before, at least not very often? AC’s answer is a male falsettist as the Sorceress, ‘silly’ voices for the witches, silly-voiced vocal echoes in the Furies Dance, and a chorus of sailors who sound like refugees from the cast of Poldark. They are led by a re-designated specifically ‘drunken’ sailor (sung by the leader of the orchestra1) who doesn’t sound especially drunk – just not very accurate. Then there’s the omission of the continuo from ‘Great minds’ and ‘With drooping wings’, and there is no repeat of this final chorus, either with or without instruments. The presence within the continuo team of a double bass will not be universally welcomed. This isn’t meant to be a Beckmesser-ish list of faults, but D & A is a work that raises great passions of many kinds and EMR-land listeners will, I think, want to know what they’re getting on a disc for repeated listening as opposed to in a one-off concert experience when all these details are doubtless very effective. In the lead roles, after a slightly uncertain start Robert Davies does as much as anyone can with Aeneas and Rachael Lloyd and the band remind us what stunning music the Lament is, though I would have preferred a little more vocal control on the end-of-phrase ‘me’ whenever it occurred. The booklet essay (English only) shies away from issues of edition and performance practice though in other respects is sound, even if the sentence/paragraph on page 5, top left needs the attention of a fierce copy editor. On the whole, with recordings of this work, you pays your money, you makes your choice and you probably won’t like all of it.

David Hansell

1 I can claim a ‘sort-of’ precedent for this, having presided over school performances of operas in which the leaders of the overture orchestras subsequently appeared on stage as Figaro and Orpheus (both girls!). At least this produced an Orpheus who could do ‘his’ own violin playing (in Offenbach).

This lively account of Dido and Aeneas makes a virtue of its small forces – one to a part on the orchestral parts and two to a part on the chorus parts – by creating a splendidly punchy account of Purcell’s opera. The inclusion of a double bass helps to beef up the texture, but is occasionally rather overpowering. The uncreditted guitarist who contributes to several tracks is presumably theorbist Robin Jeffrey. Rachael Lloyd gives a suitably wounded Dido, and although I found her vibrato on emphasised notes irritating (particularly in the famous Lament), her reading of the part is powerful and convincing. She is supported by a beautifully gauged Belinda, in the person of Elin Manahan Thomas, and her Aeneas, Robert Davies, is suitably red-blooded and gruff, but also able to express the inner turmoil necessary for Act II. Roderick Morris’s Sorceress and his demonic sidekicks are truly menacing, and their cackling contribution to the Echo Dance is inspired. Miles Golding’s drunken mummerset sailor’s approximations of the notes, would, I fear, wear a bit thin on repeated listening. This is an account which powers forwards and sweeps the listener with it and yet which avoids out-and-out parody, allowing the moving conclusion to enjoy its full dramatic effect. Comparison with my all-time favourite account on CD, directed by Andrew Parrott with the incomparable Emma Kirkby as Dido on Chandos (CHAN 8306) overshadows this account somewhat, but this is a fine engaging reading which always entertains and certainly never hangs about.

D. James Ross