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Purcell: The Fairy Queen

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Audio CD, August 11, 1992
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Product Details

  • Performer: Jennifer Vyvyan, Norma Burrowes, James Bowman, Peter Pears, John Shirley-Quirk, et al.
  • Orchestra: English Chamber Orchestra
  • Conductor: Benjamin Britten
  • Composer: Henry Purcell
  • Audio CD (August 11, 1992)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: London / Decca
  • ASIN: B00000E4WG
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #299,230 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By DAVID BRYSON VINE VOICE on March 11, 2007
If this laconically described 2-disc set is what I think it is, it's available on Decca in England and it will have a strong appeal for enthusiasts for Purcell. What you should find is firstly the Fairy Queen directed by Britten with the ECO, and filling up the second disc a performance of Dido and Aeneas from Aldeburgh in 1978 with Baker once again in the role of that queen. This latter has been released on record for the first time, and to judge by the recorded thunder in the scene of the storm it must be a live performance, although there is no applause and no audience-noise that I noticed. The performing edition has been edited by Imogen Holst together with Britten himself. The division between the first two acts occurs later than in Baker's famous 1961 account, something that would only be significant in a staged version, and the principal difference that you will notice is that there is an extra ensemble with chorus between acts II and III. The conductor this time is Steuart Bedford, and the soloists are a stellar assemblage of the great and the good.

The interpretation is not vastly different from the one we are used to (and the recording is certainly no better), but there are significant differences all the same. One minor but imaginative touch that I definitely liked was using a boy soloist for the part of the spirit who conveys the witches' fateful message to Aeneas rather than a fuzzy `remote' effect surrounding a soprano as in the old version. In this realisation the sorceress herself also sings in a `normal' voice rather than a pantomime-witch tone. I'm sure this will suit many listeners, but I frankly prefer a bit of staginess and melodrama here myself. However far and away the most significant difference is in the casting of Pears as Aeneas.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Record Collector on November 29, 2009
The Fairy Queen--a semi-opera--was immensely successful in its day but virtually impossible to stage under modern theatrical conditions, allowing for current expectations. In 1967 Benjamin Britten (with the help of Sir Peter Pears and Imogen Holst) made a special arrangement of the music for a concert performance at the Aldeburgh Festival. It is divided into four sections: "Oberon's Birthday", "Night and Silence" (which brings some of the most beautiful and inspired writing), "The Sweet Passion" and "Epithalamium" (a marriage ode, which includes the famous Chaconne). Not every item is included on this two-disc set, for there are blank pages in the surviving original full score. Britten, for instance, completed the trumpet obbligato in "Hark! hark! the echoing air" (which peters out after bar six in the manuscript), and in "Come all ye songsters of the sky" he has allotted the chirruping accompanimental figure to oboes and piccolos, an enchanting effect.

So, what we have is a free and creative version of Purcell's masterpiece, marvellously played and sung, with the music-making enhanced by the famous Snape Maltings acoustic. The starry cast includes Jennifer Vyvyan (a favourite soprano of mine) at her freshest; Alfreda Hodgson, also in fine voice; Sir Peter Pears, James Bowman, Ian Partridge and John Shirley-Quirk (equally impressive as Winter and Sleep); and the inimitable Owen Brannigan, similarly versatile as the Drunken Poet--a delightful contribution--and as Hymen in the closing section. This release on Decca 433 163-2 is an excellent CD transfer of the 1970 recording.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jurgen Lawrenz on April 30, 2013
What motivates people like myself to collect records - sometimes a dozen and more versions of the same music? The seemingly obvious answer is: every recording can bring intriguing perspectives to life; and unless it is outrageously poor or blatant self-indulgence by an artist, this constitutes an enrichment of one's musical experience.
Nonetheless over a course of years of auditioning, one's own perspective will subtly change and crystallise eventually into an idealised image of a performance that fully answers to the composite of many impressions in one's mind. If then, by chance, a performance crosses one's path that seems to fit this kaleidoscope as if tailor made, then the lucky listener might install it in his or her own mind as "definitive". Well understood - definitive for that one listener!
It does not entitle that listener to assume that this performance is "the best". The silly notion, that one or another recording can be "the best", will not stand up to any logical scrutiny. Thus, whenever you read this claim in any reviews, you can safely dismiss it as an overenthusiastic self-projection of the writer.
Accordingly I will now swallow my own medicine and refrain from calling this recording "the best", for either of the works. In one sense it undoubtedly is, but even then, it must suffer some criticisms which, with the best will in the world, I cannot overlook.
The first of these is, whose music are we actually listening to in The Fairy Queen? Evidently Purcell's; but the text has been arranged (whatever that may mean) by Imogen Holst and the music by Britten. Purcell himself would probably not recognise it as his own work! The performance is with modern instruments and thoroughly unidiomatic.
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