Robert King and The King’s Consort are no strangers to the music of Henry Purcell; in the 1990s, they made a number of highly successful recordings of Purcell’s music together, establishing a reputation for accuracy and style. Wednesday night’s large Wigmore Hall audience had clearly come to re-live the glory days, and they were not disappointed.
The programme (Purcell at the Chapel Royal) contained a mixture of Purcell’s anthems (including Let mine eyes run down with tears and Remember not, Lord, our offences), verse anthems (including ‘The bell anthem’, and It is a good thing to give thanks), and three examples of the more rarely heard devotional songs (How long, great God; Hosanna to the highest; Full of wrath), all of which were performed with competence by the small instrumental ensemble (four strings and continuo) and five singers.
As is often the case with Purcell’s music, the slower items were more extraordinary in terms of harmonic exposition, and particularly arresting in this respect was the anthem Remember not, Lord, our offences, where Purcell’s chromatic writing anticipated that of the 19th century to an extraordinary degree.
Perhaps the most enjoyable item of the evening was the devotional song Hosanna to the highest performed sensitively by the bass Matthew Brook, who was joined, in a sublimely unexpected moment half-way through, by the tenor Charles Daniels. All of the five voices (the others were Julie Cooper, Rebecca Outram and Robin Blaze) worked well both separately and together, blending to produce seamless counterpoint – notable here were the verses provided by the three lower voices in It is a good thing to give thanks. Between musical items, Robert King engaged the audience with information about the pieces, delivered in his usual affable and engaging manner. It was a pleasant concert, and the audience members were clearly delighted by it – indeed, it was refreshing to hear The King’s Consort once again.
But the evening was accompanied by a slight sense of disappointment and missed opportunity; this was old material – an attractive selection of live versions of tracks already laid down on disc 20 years ago (albeit with different personnel) performed to an audience of people who all remembered those recordings and who wanted to hear them again: a ‘greatest hits tour’ perhaps. There was little new here, either in terms of material or informed performance; what was wanted was a sparkle of excitement, and a new take on Purcell’s unique genius, but what was delivered was a collection of well performed reference material.
Further details of Wigmore Hall concerts can be found at wigmore-hall.org.uk.