For his setting of Sing unto God, first heard in 1687, Purcell once again turned to the voice of his friend and colleague John Gostling. The first hearing in the Chapel Royal must have turned a few heads, for Purcell was clearly determined to use every available note of Gostling’s ‘stupendous’ vocal range. The first section calls on all the kingdoms of the earth to praise God, involving mainly the agile upper end of the voice in a series of florid runs before the choir’s ‘Alleluia’ gives the soloist a brief respite. ‘Who sitteth in the heavens over all’ was irresistible to Purcell, who responded to ‘Lo, he doth send out his voice, yea, and that a mighty voice’ by taking the singer from above the musical stave to well below it in a series of breathtaking phrases. ‘Ascribe ye the power’ is more conventional, set in a triple metre and once again leading to Alleluias from the choir. As so often though with Purcell, it is the slow section which is most musically effective: the melismas of ‘O God’ expand majestically (and the key turns from minor to major) onto the word ‘wonderful’. ‘He will give strength and power’ is almost Handelian in its noble mood and smoothly running continuo line, and the section, having glorified God so expansively, ends quietly. The final statement by choir and soloist ‘Blessed be God: Amen’ is made all the more effective by its restrained breadth.
from notes by Robert King ©