It is rare for a review to cover music in a small, relatively unknown venue, but Spiritato! are well-known performers on the Early-music scene; besides, it is occasionally worth reminding music-lovers that excellent music can be found in London outside the main concert venues.
Oh brother, where art thou? was a short concert performed by the baroque ensemble Spiritato! this weekend, featuring a selection of music by Henry Purcell and his younger brother (or, more possibly, cousin) Daniel Purcell. The concert began with a selection of movements from Henry Purcell’s semi-opera The Fairy Queen; this was followed by Daniel Purcell’s 1713 cantata The Beauteous Daphne, and the orchestral suite from Henry Purcell’s ode Who Can From Joy Refrain?
The ensemble consisted of only six instrumentalists – two violins, a viola, a cello, a harpsichord and a trumpet, and they were joined for the vocal items by the soprano Clare Norburn, but these small forces packed a concentrated punch. The ensemble work throughout was spot-on; it was a joy to hear – and observe – the beautifully communicated duet lines between soprano and first violin, or first violin and trumpet. The intonation too was perfect; not a note was out of place – the fearsomely exposed cello statement of the ground bass at the beginning of O, let me weep, for example was absolutely in tune. One tiny criticism is that the first violin – who led the ensemble with a great sense of élan – was occasionally perhaps just a shade too prominent. Clare Norburn has a beautiful tone and communicates well with her audience. The trumpet/soprano duet work in Hark! The Echoing Air had a particular sparkle, and “clap, clap, clap their wings” was descriptively percussive. Perhaps, at times, though, Ms Norburn needed to work a little more on diction – even in such a small and dry acoustic, her words were sometimes lost.
Daniel Purcell is somewhat of a rarity, and it was a pleasure to hear a cantata of his. Set in six short movements (alternating recitative and aria passages), it tells the brief story of Pallas’ encouragement to Strephon in his pursuit of the nymph Daphne. The text is fairly ordinary, but the music has an early-18th-century charm that represents an English composer’s response to the wave of fashionable Italian music arriving in Britain at the time. Spiritato! and Clare Norburn gave an excellent rendering of it, kindling an interest in the music of Daniel Purcell, who seems to be a speciality of the ensemble.