There is a nutty and delightful new Purcell CD out this year: German soprano Dorothee Mields got together again with the early music ensemble Lautten Compagney Berlin under the leitung by Wolfgang Katschner to produce a collection of Purcell-authored and folk traditionals of the era loosely related to madness and bedlam. Mields’ precise, pretty, bell-like voice is perfectly partnered with the witty and inspired playing by the ensemble which crosses into eccentricity with some wonderful results.
There are all manner of curios here. There are the songs of funny madness and those of ‘melancholy’; there are short, less then a minute cris de coeur as well as much longer, cantata-like developed dramatic scene-songs; there are a few frequently recorded pieces like Dido’s Lament and O Solitude but also the relatively obscure bits from the musical theatre of the time (from plays with titles like The History of Dioclesian, Distressed Innocence or Sophobisba) and incidental music composed for Shakespeare’s plays.
The texts are all particular and worthy of close reading, and this includes the sillier variants with alliterations and onomatopoeic play. The music and what the Lautten Compagney does with it, all the brilliant accents and moods, all the unexpected twists, the layer upon layer of joy and hilarity – are the star of the disc. The pieces without the voice are nothing short of mini spectacles. I am now on the search for everything that the Compagney and Wolfgang Katschner ever recorded.
And what to say of Dorothee Mields? Unerring artistic instincts, singing intelligence, dramatic flair that brings alive an entire unruly crowd of characters strike again. (I first witnessed some of that at a Master Class one fine winter.) She moves from Bess of Bedlam to the Madonna to a dark ditty about The Cruel Mother to Mad Maudlin to the quite mad Ophelia to the dying Dido with ease and conviction. The baroque melismas, when summoned, are flawless. The only whinge I have is that the consonants get softened to non-existence every now and again – maybe German speakers fear a hint of Germanness in too blunt consonants? – and some of the clarity of the diction is lost. But in essence — it doesn’t matter. It’s a thing one will forget before the embarrassment of all the other riches.
Well programmed and beautifully executed.