Hyperion Records

Great God, and just, Z186
author of text
Penitential Hymns 2

'Purcell: The Complete Anthems and Services, Vol. 6' (CDA66663)
Purcell: The Complete Anthems and Services, Vol. 6
Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66663  Archive Service; also available on CDS44141/51  
'Purcell: The Complete Sacred Music' (CDS44141/51)
Purcell: The Complete Sacred Music
Buy by post £40.00 CDS44141/51  11CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  
Track 8 on CDA66663 [3'54] Archive Service; also available on CDS44141/51
Track 8 on CDS44141/51 CD6 [3'54] 11CDs Boxed set (at a special price)

Great God, and just, Z186
The author of ‘Great God, and just’, the Cambridge-educated preacher Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), was a chaplain to Charles I who survived capture during the Civil War to become a bishop in Ireland. This ‘penitential hymn’ is an example of his colourful literary style, full of remorseful sentiments and not sparing on graphic description. Purcell’s imagination must have revelled in such a text, and his setting is one of his most extreme, creating a considerable technical test for any singer to tackle. He sets the majority of the work for a solo treble, stretching his voice (much as he did the adult John Gostling) over nearly two octaves: only a boy with remarkable assurance could have sung such a piece! Purcell includes a second treble and the bass only for the closing chorus. In every phrase word painting is to the fore, both in the angular vocal line and also in the harmonic backing.

The first note sears through the texture, ‘misery’ plunges to the lower end of the voice, and the harmony of ‘and not in mercy set us free’ is especially imploring. Man’s miserable state is constantly illustrated at both ends of the vocal range, whether compared to base ‘dust’, or the shrill reminder that ‘wealth is a snare’: Purcell’s setting ‘and whispers it to death’ is especially effective. A catalogue of physical comparisons – ‘ulcerated sores’, corrupt flesh, a ‘crusty leper’s skin’ – is characterfully set, and the central cry, ‘Lord, we are sick’, highly charged. The singer asks that we may wash away all our sins, not in water, but in streams of Jesus’s blood. After such desperate wretchedness the short chorus is mercifully positive in its praise of God’s greatness and closes an extraordinarily extreme piece of church music.

from notes by Robert King ©

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