The opening text is full of mournful words, and Purcell sets these with great harmonic poignancy, the melody falling towards ‘languish’: the triple-time at ‘fainting, gasping, trembling, crying’ is as desperate and effective as we would expect from this master of word-painting. The solo bass is given the section beginning ‘O tell me, you that have been long below’, but Purcell ingeniously re-arranges the lines of the poem to pre-empt ‘Methinks I hear some gentle spirit say’ with the tenor’s ‘be not fearful, come away’. The melodic interval for the ‘vale of tears’ sadly droops, before a more up-beat chorus ‘attempt the laurel crown’ of heaven: but the final sentiment depressingly reminds us that first they must cross ‘Death’s Rubicon’.
from notes by Robert King ©
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