In the glorious opening ‘Prelude’ (not given the more usual label of ‘Symphony’) the pealing of bells is everywhere, not only in the bass part where Purcell’s ten-beat ground is repeated five times, but also in the intertwining upper parts where the juxtaposition of joyous scales with Purcell’s wistful harmonies give the music a delicious bittersweet quality. The use of the Chapel Royal’s high pitch gives the string writing a wonderful sheen, and the two theorbos colour the texture with their constantly descending scales. Finally three solo voices break in with the eight bars of triple-time they reiterate throughout the anthem, and their new tune is quickly taken up and extended by the strings, the more lyrical middle section of Purcell’s Symphony contrasting with the dancing opening. The trio repeat their eight bars and the briefest of instrumental comments closes the section. The soloists call that ‘your moderation be known unto all men’ and the choir joyfully breaks in, their rejoicing interspersed with the solo trio’s exhortation ‘and again’. The instruments take the instruction literally and we are treated to a complete repetition of the Symphony.
The solo bass brings a more staid tone with his instruction to prayer and supplication ‘Be careful for nothing’, and the triple time is replaced by a more thoughtful passage of homophony for ‘and the peace of God which passeth all understanding’. The strings develop the idea, but they are interrupted by the return of the soloists’ triple section: eight bars of this, repeats of both the instrumental ritornello and the chorus (complete with the soloists’ cries of ‘and again’) bring to a close one of Purcell’s most enduringly popular anthems.
from notes by Robert King ©
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