The opening Symphony is a fine piece of work, elegant in the dotted, dancing rhythms which so pleased Charles II, but with the wistfulness that is such a feature of Purcell’s string writing never far beneath the surface. The first joyful vocal entries overlap the Symphony, dropping in tessitura for ‘secretly among the faithful’ before they are overtaken by the strings for a wonderfully lilting ritornello, full of Purcell’s imaginative, unexpected harmonic and melodic twists. A solo bass praises the greatness of God’s works, accompanied by the two violins, before the three voices return for ‘his work is worthy to be praised’. Each voice in turn holds a single note to illustrate God’s righteousness enduring ‘for ever’ before the chorus enter, taking up the same joyful triple metre: the strings repeat their earlier, glorious ritornello. ‘He hath showed his people the power of his works’ is set for a solo tenor and the two violins, once again demonstrating Purcell’s inimitable melodic style and, for the word ‘all’, passing the note between soloist and instruments. For ‘They stand fast for ever and ever’ Purcell changes the time to a more spacious duple metre, contrasting imitation with homophonic interchanges between voices and instruments. At ‘Holy and reverend is his name’, Purcell introduces a magically hushed texture, first with the three soloists alone and then, to close, with choir and instruments.
from notes by Robert King ©
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