Purcell: The Complete Anthems and Services, Vol. 2
Archive Service; also available on CDS44141/51CDA66609
Part 1: Symphony
Part 2: Blessed are they that fear the Lord
Nicholas Witcomb (treble), Philip Hallchurch (treble), Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor), Michael George (bass), The King's Consort, Robert King (conductor)
Part 3: The Lord thy God from out of Sion shall so bless thee
Michael George (bass), Nicholas Witcomb (treble), Philip Hallchurch (treble), Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor), The King's Consort, Robert King (conductor)
Part 4: Alleluia
Purcell’s first section of the Symphony is gloriously wistful, with the chromatic harmony, full of suspensions, tensioned and anchored by the bass violins’ opening sustained pedal which descends, after five long bars, to the instruments’ richest depths. The dancing triple-time section which follows sets a more lively mood, though is equally harmonically adventurous. The verse sections are set for four voices – two boy trebles, high tenor and bass – giving ample scope for rich vocal textures. The first verse section exploits these sounds, with expressive discords for the word ‘fear’ and melismas used to picture ‘walk in his ways’. After a short ritornello the soloists are cast as different characters: the solo bass takes the role of the husband, striving in the fields (‘For thou shalt eat the labour of thy hands’), the high tenor takes on a commentating role (‘And happy shalt thou be’), and the two trebles, in thirds over a dominant pedal, repeat the phrase ‘O well is thee’. Throughout, Purcell is superbly alive to the expressive text. Gostling would have taken the section for solo bass ‘The Lord thy God from out of Sion’, whose foursquare metre is interrupted by a poignant repetition by the trebles of their phrase ‘O well is thee’. The tenor sings of the peace that Israel’s children’s children will see (and that England hopes to see from the same continued succession) with marvellously rich harmony for each mention of the word ‘peace’, and leads into the most remarkable section of the anthem. The two trebles repeat their touching ‘O well is thee’, and the idea is then taken up as well by the two lower voices, giving rise to sumptuous harmony. The trebles interrupt with a more lively ‘And happy shalt thou be’, and the two contrasting ideas co-exist and seemingly compete before the homophonic triple-time ‘Lo, thus shall the man be blessed’ breaks through.
The imitation of the final ‘Alleluia’ also shows Purcell’s remarkable craftsmanship, with the vocal entries coming closer and closer together until they are replaced by a lively dotted rhythm and short chorus.
from notes by Robert King © 1992