Movement 1: Why, why are all the Muses mute?
Movement 2: When should each soul exalted be?
Movement 3: Britain, thou now art great, art great indeed!
Movement 4: Look up, and to our Isle returning see
Michael Chance (countertenor), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Michael George (bass), The King's Consort, Robert King (conductor)
Movement 5: Accurs'd rebellion reared his head
Michael George (bass), Gillian Fisher (soprano), Tessa Bonner (soprano), The King's Consort, Robert King (conductor)
Movement 6: Caesar for milder virtues honour'd more
Movement 7: The many-headed beast is quelled at home
Movement 8: In the equal balance laid
Movement 9: O how blest is the Isle to which Caesar is given
For the famous countertenor William Turner, Purcell provided one of his finest ground bass arias, ‘Britain, thou now art great’. As in so many of the Odes he used his well-tried formula—a delicious ground bass, an alto solo and then a glorious string ritornello—and once again Purcell proved the system’s never-failing magic. Next comes a trio and chorus extolling great Caesar’s triumphs, leading into a remarkable bass solo. The bass at the performance (we do not know for certain who he was but can guess that it had to be John Gostling) must have had an astonishing voice, for his splendidly warlike ‘Accurs’d rebellion reared his head’ covers a huge vocal range of over two octaves, with Caesar ‘from on high’ dropping to subterranean levels for the depiction of Hell. This movement is given all the greater contrast by the following soprano duet ‘So Jove, scarce settled in his sky’.
The mid-point of the Ode is marked by a delightfully poised ritornello minuet, with Purcell’s string writing at its most courtly and elegant, leading directly into a duet for tenor and bass, given added richness by a line for an obbligato violin and a brief concluding instrumental ritornello. The Monmouth rebellion is despatched by a tenor solo and chorus, and Europe’s fate is weighed in the balance by two basses: neither Britain nor Purcell’s writing is found wanting. The Ode ends perfectly: the lyrical high tenor solo ‘O how blest is the Isle’ develops into a ravishing string ritornello, full of Purcell’s harmony at its most glorious. But there is even better to come: Purcell appears at his greatest in the final chorus with a valediction worthy of Dido herself. The conclusion of the Ode drops through the chromatic scale in devastating fashion: there is no more poignant ending in all Purcell’s Odes.
from notes by Robert King © 2010