Oh, fair Cedaria
is a masterpiece. It was not published until seven years after Purcell’s death, when it appeared in the 1702 second edition of Orpheus Britannicus
. It is one of the most perfect of all Purcell’s songs. The opening is exquisite, with a ravishing melisma on ‘Oh’ leading to a series of sighing ‘hide those eyes’ and erotic settings of the word ‘dies’. ‘Such beauty and charms are seen’ is underpinned by a graceful, four-bar ground bass; the tantalizing melismas on ‘charms’ leave us in no doubt of Cedaria’s matchless ‘beauty, wit, and grace’. The last stanza is extraordinary, containing a series of increasingly desolate pleas to ‘pity me’, the last of which is worthy of Dido, as is the magically descending bass line of the last ‘Unless I may your favour have, I can’t one moment live’. Such a song leaves us in no doubt whatsoever as to why Purcell’s contemporaries held him in universal awe.
from notes by Robert King © 2003