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Purcell Dido and Aeneas Harmonia Mundi

Purcell - Dido and Aeneas 01

..aural luxuriance!!

Needing the ten minutes of The Gordian Knot Unty'd (delicious music, magically played) to bring it up to a marketable length, this must be the fastest Dido yet. With unfashionably extreme over-dotting and reverse dotting, unbelievably slick tailing off of phrases and an often astonishingly light touch despite a generally full sound, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra from San Francisco can seem quintessentially American..


Purcell - Dido and Aeneas 01 Purcell - Dido and Aeneas 02


But then the same is often the case with Clare College Choir from Cambridge (UK): there are 33 of them, far more than you expect these days, but they are wonderfully controlled and have no trouble keeping up with McGegan's lithe beat. The sound is a shade fleshy, but then the whole emphasis is on a certain aural luxuriance..

It is often the Belinda who gives the tone in a performance of Dido, and Lisa Saffer sets things moving at comic-opera pace with her infectiously jolly singing (well paired with Donna Deam as the Second Woman). Perhaps the point here is to increase the impact of one of the world's most tragic stories. For me that doesn't quite work, but there is a dear and powerful impact in the contrast with Lorraine Hunt's full-toned and slightly self-indulgent Dido (sounding like a countertenor in her lower register). And Michael Dean is a superbly virile-sounding Aeneas, using a Verdi-like baritone colour, but presenting all the music with the measured tread of a true hero: his is a reading I shall treasure..

Ellen Rabiner sings the music of the Sorceress straight, with full emphasis on the musical values; but—again perhaps intended as a dramatic contrast—the two witches and the witches' chorus are hotly dramatic, cultivating a kind of squawky sound. Paul Elliott does a nice Mummerset vignette as the Sailor; and Christine Brandes is a wonderfully atmospheric Spirit..

So this is an idiosyncratic performance (though musicologically staid: no added music, no male sorceresses or female sailors). It is also easy to admire or catch one's breath at many details. But if you are looking for just one version echoing JF-A's “Gramophone Collection” last month (page 28)—you may prefer Parrott for his inventiveness, Harnoncourt or Pinnock for their Didos (Ann Murray and Anne Sofie von Otter), Bolton for his dramatic grasp, or Hogwood for simply sounding so right throughout.'

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