Unto thee will I cry Z63 [12'51]
Throughout the music for strings is wonderfully crafted, beginning with a fine two-section Symphony: the short, imitative opening immediately sets the wistful tone that is such a feature of Purcell’s string writing, and the triple-time section that follows carries, beneath its veneer of courtly dance, a great melancholy. The solo bass’s first entry overlaps the end of the Symphony, and is accompanied by two violins: John Gostling’s astonishing vocal range may have been in Purcell’s mind, for the solo utilises the furthest extremes of the voice, crying at the top of the register and descending to the depths for ‘they that go into the pit’. The countertenor and tenor join the bass soloist at ‘Hear the voice of my humble petitions’, moving into an elegant triple metre for ‘When I hold up my hands’. That theme forms the basis for an extended orchestral ritornello which leads directly to the trio ‘O pluck me not away’. The back-dottings of ‘therefore shall he break them down’ are briefly taken up by the strings in another ritornello before they change key and metre for another instrumental symphony.
This section leads first into the joyful solo trio ‘Praised be the Lord’ and then into a grand, nine-part dialogue between soloists, chorus and orchestra. ‘The Lord is my strength of my life’ is imaginatively set for solo tenor, full of characterful melismas, and leads into the finest part of the anthem, an extended set of Alleluias. Here is Purcell at his compelling best, lilting through wonderfully characterful vocal phrases and building the movement with consummate skill. The orchestral ritornello which follows is a masterpiece, with a viola line which apparently defies all the rules of harmony and counterpoint and yet somehow arrives back in the correct place at the right time before the choir exultantly end a magnificent anthem.
from notes by Robert King ©
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