Praise the Lord is a fine anthem which begins with another of Purcell’s excellent Symphonies (scored only for two violins and continuo – there is no viola line). The opening is wistful, with the violins’ desolate lines underpinned by a bass line which descends to the richest reaches of the bass violins. The second, triple-time section dances in lighter vein, but behind the surface jollity is still the melancholy which permeates so much of Purcell’s best writing. The opening vocal section is yet another tour de force written, presumably, for the bass John Gostling. Purcell’s setting of a colourful text from the Psalms proclaims God’s majesty, testing the furthest extremes of Gostling’s voice in splendidly characterful writing. After a short instrumental ritornello a second, high tenor, voice enters and joins the bass in more gentle writing for ‘He bringeth forth grass for the cattle’: for the ‘wine that maketh glad the heart of man’ Purcell’s music becomes more lively and syncopated. The continuo line for the tenor solo ‘He appointed the moon for certain seasons’ is an intriguing four-bar, constantly modulating ostinato over which the singer weaves an elegant line.
The mid-point of the anthem, ‘O Lord, how manifold are thy works’, is hushed and reverent, set first for the soloists and then repeated by the choir, after which the opening Symphony is repeated again. The two soloists return at ‘The earth is full of thy riches’ and a short instrumental ritornello leads to the remarkable ‘When thou hidest thy face they are troubled’: Purcell’s setting of ‘when thou takest away their breath they die’ is wonderfully poised. Once again the lilting triple metre returns, broken by the stately ‘The glorious majesty of the Lord shall endure for ever’ before the choir return with their awestruck praise of God’s works.
from notes by Robert King ©
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