Hyperion Records

O Lord God of hosts, Z37
Discounting the unique coronation anthem My heart is inditing, only three of Purcell’s anthems are scored for eight-part choir. All three are early works. The astonishing Blow up the trumpet in Sion was probably the first to be composed, written by 1679: Hear my prayer, perhaps Purcell’s finest a cappella anthem, was apparently intended to be the opening of a larger work (either lost or never completed) and the third was O Lord God of hosts. This verse anthem was probably written in 1680 or 1681, between the two others, and copied along with nine other anthems into a fair manuscript now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. With eight voices at his disposal and a desolate text, Purcell created sumptuous vocal textures.

The opening choral section passes the imitative point between all eight voices in both real and inverted form, combining a slow-moving harmonic pulse with a wealth of internal contrapuntal detail. The melancholy verse ‘Thou feedest them with the bread of tears’ is scored for two trios of soloists, first three lower voices and then, providing added pathos, for two trebles and a tenor. The full choir return at ‘Thou hast made us a very strife’, once again showing Purcell’s skill at handling large-scale contrapuntal textures at ‘And our enemies laugh us to scorn’. For the five-part verse ‘Turn us again, O God of hosts’ Purcell is on fertile ground, calling to God for help in wonderfully rich, imploring harmonies, full of the most appealing dissonances. The final chorus, back in the major key, confidently returns to eight-part counterpoint to close a remarkable work.

from notes by Robert King ©

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