Purcell (1659-1695) is well remembered as a composer of opera, sacred music, and chamber music, but he also composed a large body of music for the Restoration Era theatre, none of which had ever been published until very recently. “Incidental music” came to England with the post-Cromwell re-opening of the theatres, which rapidly began to compete with one another by means of the splendidness of effects and scenery, among other factors. Not only did music enhance the performances, it also supplied something to hold the audiences’ attention while scenes were being shifted.
Purcell was commissioned to compose music for William Congreve’s “The Olde Bachelour,” a farce revolving around an old man’s decision to take a young wife. The prospective wife of course prefers her young lover, and thereby hangs the plot. Congreve’s dialog, a popular and talented cast, and Purcell’s music combined to make the play a hit.
The evening’s concert was all Purcell, opening with Three Parts Upon a Ground in D Major, followed by Trio Sonata No. 9 in F Major (“The Golden Sonata”). Then, there was the “Purcell Pastiche in G Minor” as assembled by the Ensemble, which consisted of Prelude to Act V of “The Fairy Queen,” “If Love’s a Sweet Passion,” Sonata for Violin and Bass Viol, and the Jigg to Act I of “Fairy Queen.”
The music to “The Olde Bachelour” had eight short instrumental movements, interspersed with four songs, two of which were from the play, and two that were thematically similar added “to make the point.” These were “What Can We Poor Females Do?” “Thus To A Ripe Consenting Maid,” “As Amoret and Thyrsis Lay,” and “No, No, Resistance Is But Vain.”
The instrumentalists in the Ensemble this evening comprised a “fiddle band,” as used in the theatre of the time. These were: Joan Parsley, harpsichord; Gesa Kordes and Edith Hines, baroque violin; Susan Rozendaal, viola; and Debra Lonergan, cello. They were joined for the singing by sopranos Erica Schuller and Sarah Richardson, and bass-baritone Paul Rowe.
All the playing and singing was very fine. Purcell fulfilled his mission to keep audience interest admirably, with intricate movement and intertwining of lines evident even in the shortest pieces. Ms. Schuller showed off a beautiful bell-like voice on “If Love’s A Sweet Passion.” Ms. Richardson and Mr. Rowe performed “What Can We Poor Females Do?” in a charming Restoration style, with effectively conspiratorial nodding and smiling to emphasize the music. The singers switched off, with Schuller and Rowe together on “As Amoret and Thyrsis Lay,” and the two ladies joining on “”No, No, Resistance is But Vain.”
The concert ended with Jigg: Dance of the Anticks, which brought the evening to a lively close. We were very pleased to have had the opportunity to enjoy this rare music.
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