Friday, June 26, 2020

Great composer who simply failed to click the right boxes


You have to feel sorry for poor old Henry Purcell. He was born in 1659 B.Z. (before Zoom), so didn't have a 'commercial partnership' with streaming service Idagio and never had a gig with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, he was male, there are no crowdfunded novels about him, and, of course, in an age when diversity has become just another marketing tool, Purcell washes whiter than white. Which means today Henry doesn't receive the recognition he deserves. But some enlightened souls have given him his due. Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra is sub-titled Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell and is based on the Rondeau of the composer's Abdelazer suite. The reverence Britten held Purcell in is shown by twenty-five index entries for Henry in Humphrey Carpenter's definitive biography of Britten; which is five more than for another Britten cause, Mahler.

The folks at the Dutch budget label Brilliant Classics are also enlightened souls as they offer a bargain-priced 7 CD box of Purcell's complete chamber music. This is not a licensed compilation: the music is persuasively played and all the recordings were made for the label by the Dutch original instrument ensemble Musica Amphion directed by their founder harpsichordist and recorder player Pieter-Jan Belder. The sessions were held around ten years ago in the sympathetic acoustics of Dutch churches, and are captured in the crystal clear and deceptively simple but life-like signature sound of Brilliant Classic's in-house productions. Just like old Henry himself, this highly recommended box set fails to tick the right boxes mandated by the classical taste makers. Which is a very good reason to buy it.

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5 comments:

Daddy Hardup said...

I wonder whether part of the problem is that Purcell was English, and English movers and shakers are too busy being British and 'Global' to take care of their own national culture. Purcell must be one of the greatest of English creative artists in any field, and one who was very English in his sensitivity to the word-music of his native tongue and in his use of characteristically English genres such as the fantasy for viols and the verse anthem and other forms of Church of England liturgical music. But he is hardly a household name in England and his salience in English popular culture is very low. There is the famous recording of 'Nymphs and Shepherds' by the 1920s Manchester school children (and the play about it by Victoria Wood) but I can't think of much else by or about him that would be widely recognised by English people.

Daddy Hardup said...

Purcell's music is so expressive, too, so delicate and sensitive. It lifts us above the depressing national monoculture of "Keep Calm and Carry On."

Cam said...

Certainly piqued my interest in this box.

AUD$ 34.25 for 7 CDs is a bargain at Presto, but unfortunately I haven't had a CD player -- or even a drive with which I can rip -- for many years and it's AUD$ 134.50 for the non-HD FLAC of the same.


This kind of discrepancy is oft repeated across the Brilliant Classics range. Perhaps someone at Brilliant believes that a person buying the download must pay compensation for the convenience of the piracy they're failing to commit by... you know... paying for the download?!

Pliable said...

Cam makes a valid point that raises a much wider and important question - what is the fiscal value of a classical performance? Wild variances in cost for the same work such as this leave the consumer confused and nervous of purchasing in case they are being ripped off. And the same applies when the cost of a concert ticket can be more than £50, yet the same performance can be experienced at home for free in high quality sound and vision via streaming.

The classical industry is failing to differentiate the medium - the distribution platform - with the message - the music. This failure has led to pricing being determined by the medium and not the message, as Cam highlights. All of which leads to consumers who are confused and feel exploited; which is not what the classical needs right now.

Cam said...

You raise another interesting point.

The $100.25 price difference in an identical digital data stream -- one encoded on physical media as a series of pits and lands, the other encoded by the FLAC codec -- is very confusing, even more so because the price relative to the cost of production of the medium is clearly inverted! Obviously I'm fairly cynical about the cause.

As for the monetary value of a classical performance, the MSO here in Melbourne has anchored the value of a streamed performance at $0, and it is unclear to me how they'll walk that back given the ensuing global pile on has resulted in no scarcity of first rate performances of name-just-about-anything-you-like.

It is true that while the stream of a performance may be enjoyed for free at home, it is only a reproduction. How much this matters to a public newly conditioned to staying in will be interesting to resolve. Now we're firmly in an economic recession I do suspect the reproduction will satisfice for many. Including -- I expect at least some of the time -- me.