Purcell: The Complete Anthems and Services, Vol. 2
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Part 1: Symphony
Part 2: I will give thanks unto thee, O Lord
Nicholas Witcomb (treble), Daniel Lochmann (treble), James Bowman (countertenor), Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor), Michael George (bass), New College Choir Oxford, The King's Consort, Robert King (conductor)
Part 3: Symphony
Part 4: All the kings of the earth shall praise thee, O Lord
The anthem requires five soloists, and is written on a fairly large scale with the Symphony repeated in full at the mid-point. The opening of that Symphony is again in wistful mood, full of extraordinarily intense harmonies and dropping chromaticism, melancholy yet curiously uplifting in the sadness which pervades so much of Purcell’s music. Again the second part of the Symphony follows the Humfrey pattern in utilising a dance-like, largely homophonic second section which introduces the opening vocal material. With five voices with which to play, Purcell is able to contrast textures which are basically chordal with close imitation, such as at ‘Ev’n before the gods’, where the point swings rapidly between the voices and instruments. A smoother texture is introduced by a solo boy at ‘I will worship towards thy holy temple’ before the five soloists return to their imitation at ‘When I called upon thee’, their falling dotted motif taken up by the strings as the basis for their ritornello. The first section ends with a short chorus which repeats the soloists’ first music, and the opening Symphony is repeated, though seemingly requiring more intensity.
A duet between alto and tenor ‘All the kings of the earth’ begins the second half before the five voices return at ‘Yea, they shall sing in the ways of the Lord’, building up to a marvellous climax at ‘great is the glory of the Lord’.
The centrepiece of the anthem is another vocal tour de force for Purcell’s remarkable bass singer John Gostling. With his singer’s vocal range spanning two-and-a-half octaves, and clearly inspired by the text ‘For though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly’ Purcell exploited every possible inch of pictorialisation, pushing his friend and colleague to the highest and lowest extremes of his range.
There is little wonder that this particular anthem can be so rarely performed, but how effective is Purcell’s writing when there is a singer able to cope with stratospheric and subterranean vocal ranges and also with subtle nuances such as the stark vocal colour required to sing ‘Though I walk in the midst of trouble’. After such a showcase, Purcell ends the work in high spirits with chorus, soloists and strings joining together exultantly.
from notes by Robert King © 1992