Classical home listening: animal magic, Purcell's stage music and Pelham Humfrey

All creatures great and small and mythical feature on Ensemble Dragma’s latest album

• Animal magic as never before: Song of Beasts: Fantastic Creatures in Medieval Song (Ramée), by Ensemble Dragma, features 14th- and 15th-century works related to animals. The beasts are grouped under six headings, among them Hear Me Roar, On the Art of Hunting and On Bats and Mice. If you’ve seen creatures depicted in carvings on church pews, ivories, or in the bestiaries popular in the period, you’ll respond to these spare, atmospheric songs.

The singer is (chiefly) Agnieszka Budzińska-Bennett, who also plays harp, with Marc Lewon and Jane Achtman on vielle and lute. There’s also an accompanying film. Best known among the composers is Guillaume de Machaut (c1300-77), whose ballade Une Vipere opens: “A viper lives in my lady’s bosom”. The poor lover is slain by her basilisk gaze. Nothing furry or cuddly here.

Ensemble Les Surprises.
Les Surprises. Photograph: Pierre Planchenault

• Late in his short life, Henry Purcell (1659-95) wrote mainly for the theatre. On Tyrannic Love (Alpha), the French ensemble Les Surprises have gathered some of his stage pieces – from King Arthur, The Fairy Queen, The Virtuous Wife and more – with music by Purcell’s circle: John Blow, John Eccles, Jeremiah Clarke and Daniel Purcell (probably Henry’s cousin). Directed by Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas, with singers Eugénie Lefebvre and Etienne Bazola, the group take a brisk approach, but are capable of intimacy too, giving a sympathetic account of Blow’s air Poor Celadon.

From the same period try the Choir of Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal, directed by Joseph McHardy: 10 boy choristers and six adults, fresh and immediate, in sacred choral music by Pelham Humfrey (1647-74), on Delphian.

• On Radio 3 (and BBC Sounds), Michael Berkeley’s guest on this week’s Private Passions (Sunday, 12 midday) is Dr Rachel Clarke, specialist in palliative medicine and author, who reflects on the importance of music in sickness and in health.

Watch a video for Selvaggia fera by Ensemble Dragma, from the album Song of Beasts

Contributor

Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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