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Benjamin Britten

Purcell: The Fairy Queen; Incidental Music (2CD)

Purcell ‘Fairy Queen’, arranged and conducted as it was by Britten for Decca in the Snape Maltings of Aldeburgh in September 1970. She was joined by a Who’s Who of British (and Britten-ish) early-music singers who between them weave a spell of magic and intimacy in this Shakesperean tale such as has hardly been rivalled on record since, especially in the ravishing nocturnal sequence to close Part II, featuring Vyvyan alongside James Bowman, Norma Burrowes and John Shirley-Quirk.

Britten’s sprightly direction encompasses grand and brilliant choruses, bucolic delight in the music for the rude mechanicals and sensuous rapture in moods of both lament and rejoicing. Hardly absent from the catalogue since its first release, this classic Decca recording is now coupled for the first time with a newly remastered (mono) L’Oiseau Lyre album from 1958, in which Vyvyan and the tenor William Herbert sing numbers from the incidental music to ‘The Tempest’, once attributed to Purcell, now largely acknowledged as the work of George Weldon. Jennifer Vyvyan is at her most beguiling here and in the minuet aria ‘What shall I do’ from Purcell’s ‘Dioclesian’, sung with assuaging tenderness and her trademark grace and subtlety of phrasing.

CD 1
The Fairy Queen (Ed. Benjamin Britten, Imogen Holst & Peter Pears)

Part I: Oberon’s Birthday
Part II: Night and Silence
Part III: The Sweet Passion

CD 2
Part IV: Epithalamium

Jennifer Vyvyan, Mary Wells & Norma Burrowes, sopranos
Alfreda Hodgson, mezzo-soprano
James Bowman & Charles Brett, countertenors
Peter Pears & Ian Partridge, tenors
John Shirley-Quirk & Owen Brannigan, basses
Ambrosian Opera Chorus
English Chamber Orchestra
Benjamin Britten

The Tempest (excerpts)*
Sonata for Trumpet and Strings (ed. Dart, Tilmouth)*
The Virtuous Wife*
What shall I do? (Dioclesian)*
Ciacona in G minor (ed. Dart)*

Jennifer Vyvyan, soprano
William Herbert, tenor
Hervey Alan, bass
Dennis Egan, trumpet
Philomusica of London
Anthony Lewis