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Posted October 1, 2010
The opening paragraph of the liner notes made me flinch, ".the artistes of the Amarillis ensemble are all very young, and they play and sing with the dash and spirit of their youth.The works [by Purcell and Frescobaldi].are known as it were in slow motion, rather cramped, without the brilliance that players under thirty can bring to bear on them." These recordings were made in 1999 and trust me, there were plenty of energetic recordings of Purcell and Frescobaldi played with dash and spirit before Ensemble Amarillis appeared on the scene. That being said, this oddly programmed disc of some anonymous English dance tunes, canzone of Frescobaldi, vocal music of Purcell and a rarely-heard cantata by Francesco Mancini is mostly pleasing.
Soprano Patricia Pettibon and tenor Jean-François Noveli are the featured soloists in the vocal works and the instrumental ensemble comprised of (in various combinations) flûte à bec, oboe, low strings and harpsichord are featured in the Frescobaldi and English dances. I loved the blend of oboe (sounding here like a cornetto) and Pettibon's high, bright voice in Purcell's "Bid the Virtues." Sure, I couldn't understand a word Pettibon was singing but the tonal quality was gorgeous. However, the absolutely miserable English pronunciation of Pettibon and Noveli sink Purcell's "Sound the Trumpet," despite Pettibon's delicious attempts to imitate the sound of a trumpet with a lovely trill. Pettibon delivers a glorious performance of Mancini's cantata "Quanto dolce è quell'ardore" where she ornaments every line beautifully and even makes the recitative memorable, this is the high point of the program.
I mostly overcame my distaste for the flûte à bec (recorder to us vulgar Americans) in the Frescobaldi canzone, which were played with dexterity by Héloise Gaillard. The best moment in the Frescobaldi sequence was the lush and darkly rich cello playing of Ophélie Gaillard and tasteful accompaniment by harpsichordist Violaine Cochard. The English dances were charming and very well played. Speaking of English dances, I was surprised how closely the opening of "The second witches dance" resembled the "Popeye the Sailorman" song? This is a pleasant recording which offers a glimpse of two artistes, Pettibon and Ophélie Gaillard, who have gone on to great careers in the world of early music.