Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Review: THE ART OF MUSICK - THE MUSIC OF HENRY PURCELL AND JOHN BLOW at Adelaide Town Hall

The Adelaide Baroque Orchestra is a relatively new ensemble.

BWW Review: THE ART OF MUSICK - THE MUSIC OF HENRY PURCELL AND JOHN BLOW at Adelaide Town Hall Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Saturday 13th March 2021.

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) was the greatest English composer until the arrival of Sir Edward Elgar. There those who maintain that he has still not been bettered or outshone. The Adelaide Baroque Orchestra is a relatively new ensemble in the city. With one reservation, which I'll get to, their decision to celebrate Purcell in the Town Hall with The Art of Musick concert was a wonderful thought. To the music, were added readings from the letters and diaries of the period, those of Purcell's wife, Frances, and the indefatigable, Mr Samuel Pepys, delivered by Anna Steen.

Ben Dollman is unmatched in this repertoire and led his musicians with grace, and some neat footwork. The major part of the instrumental music was drawn from Purcell's extensive catalogue of music for the theatre, overtures, entr'actes, and dances.

Two male voices were added to provide some of his best-known songs and a performance of the Ode on the Death of Mr. Henry Purcell, by his teacher, friend, predecessor, and successor as organist at Westminster Abbey, John Blow (1649-1708).

When Adelaide Baroque announced Timothy Reynolds as a high tenor I expected a light French style haut contre, which would balance well with Max Riebl's countertenor. His voice is an attractive full-throated tenor shown to its best in a song like 'Twas Within a Furlong of Edinboro Town, a courtship song from the comedy, The Mock Marriage. but in the Ode, balance between the two soloists was at times hard to achieve. Blow's tribute, words by Poet Laureate, John Dryden (1631-1700), is an artful panegyric, with extensive demands on the soloists. It's in F major and the soloists start down on the D in the bass clef, whichever pitch, baroque, or contemporary you choose. They then sail up two octaves. For the performance, more than half the orchestra picked up their instruments and left the stage, leaving behind a continuo group, with two recorder players: Jayne Varnish and Lynton Rivers. Max Riebl's singing of the solo at the heart of the piece was beautifully projected and articulated.

The entire ensemble reappeared for an encore. The joyful Chaconne from the Fairy Queen, a Restoration re-imagining of A Midsummer Night's Dream, was a perfect end for the concert. Purcell wrote lots of joyful songs and dances, and some naughty canons or rounds. Let's hope the orchestra schedules lots of those in future concerts.

The Orchestra was only able to afford the Town Hall because it received a significant grant from the community fund. Quite simply, the orchestra should be regarded as a great asset to the city, and be granted at least one annual opportunity to take to the stage of the Town Hall, either during the Festival and Fringe, or on St Cecilia's Day, in November. There's also the excellent acoustic of the Elder Hall at the University of Adelaide. Bring the world-renowned Adelaide Chamber Singers, and schedule two of his church anthems, a couple of suites of theatre music, and at least one of the birthday odes. I'd buy tickets, and bring my friends.

Recalling the concert, I was reminded of something I read. On his first visit to London, Handel attended a concert of what they called 'Ancient Musick'. On hearing Purcell for the first time he is said to have remarked, "If this man had lived, no-one would be listening to me". By a special Act of Parliament, Handel was granted citizenship, leaving one aristocratic wag to comment that God had made Handel a genius, but Parliament has made him an Englishman.


Featured at the Theatre Shop

T-Shirts, Mugs, Phone Cases & More

Related Articles View More Classical Music Stories

From This Author Barry Lenny