Purcell: King Arthur

Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier
97:59 (2 CDs in a wallet)
Alpha Classics Alpha 430

It is hard to believe that this performance of Purcell’s semi-opera is achieved by only thirty performers! One-to-a-part strings sound perfectly adequate (although the original performances would surely have used more) and balance well with the woodwind and brass soloists, while the vocal soloists double as chorus (as they probably would have done originally) and the director Lionel Meunier leads by example, singing bass in the choruses and also playing in the four-strong recorder section! The substantial harpsichord part is not credited in the orchestral list, but in the booklet photos seems to be played by organist Anthony Romaniuk. The general sound is spacious and rich, with a wonderful timbre when the full ensemble are playing and singing. The frost scenes are spectacularly evocative, while the familiar patriotic music, the stirring trumpet tunes and specifically Fairest Isle, are beautifully rendered, the latter sung with crystal-clear tones by Zsuzsi Tóth. The more raucous bucolic choruses never get too out of hand and the piece ends with the pomp of praise for St George, a stirring chorus with trumpets and an elegant Chaconne. This is a fine account of Purcell’s King Arthur with a first-class set of soloists, who also make a fine chorus, and idiomatic and technically sound orchestral forces. Lionel Meunier has a clear vision of the work, and evokes a powerful account of Purcell’s masterwork from his talented performers.

D. James Ross