Gabrieli Consort/McCreesh review – wonderfully secure and controlled singing

Wigmore Hall, London
Purcell’s Birthday Odes for Queen Mary II were beautifully performed by Paul McCreesh, who underlined their political timeliness

Paul McCreesh is rediscovering his Englishness, he tells us. With his Gabrieli Consort and Players, he’s returned to Purcell’s music – which he hasn’t conducted for a while – for a two-part survey of the composer’s Odes, written, one a year, between 1689 and 1694 to mark the birthday of Mary II, wife of William of Orange.

Beautiful though they are, the Odes are primarily political works, aimed at shoring up the Protestant succession in the wake of the 1688 revolution.

The history of Purcell’s times informs our own, and McCreesh, addressing the audience, was anxious to underscore the similarities: financial austerity after laissez-faire Restoration affluence; nationalist tensions within the country, the parliamentary union of which was only a few years away.

Hearing the first three Odes in chronological order is to be taken on a journey of growing ideological and artistic confidence. The first, Now Does the Glorious Day Appear, with its references to “the trembling Papal world”, tempers celebration with propaganda. By the time we reach the third, Welcome, Welcome, Glorious Morn, anti-Catholic sentiment is in abeyance, and we have entered the variegated world of Purcell’s theatre scores. In between comes Arise My Muse, written in haste, but operatic in its tensions.

McCreesh carefully delineated the contrasting mood and style of each, with the strings-only lines of Now Does the Glorious Day Appear sounding lean and severe, and Welcome, Welcome Glorious Morn tipping into relaxed warmth.

The Gabrieli Consort is effectively a choir of soloists working as a team, and the singing was wonderfully secure and controlled. Tenors Jeremy Budd and Nicholas Mulroy stood out for tackling Purcell’s high-flying tenor writing with exceptional ease.

McCreesh says he wants to conduct Purcell more often – and I, for one, would like to hear him do it.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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