These versions of Henry Purcell songs by Benjamin Britten are not often recorded, although there is a competing 1990s set from Hyperion that, like the present item, features multiple singers for variety. Britten wrote them later in his career, between the late 1940s and the early 1960s, primarily to de-stress. Both this and the Hyperion set use the term "realizations" to describe the music, for what Britten did was to use the figured basses of Purcell's pieces to generate new piano accompaniments. Yet even by the historical-performance standards of the middle 20th century, these are not really realizations; "arrangements" would be a better word. Even in fairly simple conceptions of the piano part, such as in the songs from Harmonia Sacra
at the beginning of this set, Britten's phrasing on the piano is Romantic, not harpsichord-like. This was of course typical for its time, and this double album is fascinating simply as a period piece recalling the time when contemporary musicians were just beginning to understand the Baroque and how its music worked. But this does not explain all of Britten's treatments; some of them are more Britten than Purcell. Sample for instance "Sweeter than roses," elegantly rendered by countertenor Robin Blaze
. The selection of singers here neatly balances the variety of treatments throughout, and if a double album of this music sounds like a lot, it doesn't work out that way in practice. Another plus: the ambience of the Champs Hill music room is ideal for the project. Recommended for Britten buffs and also for those interested in the development of Baroque music performance.