Henry Purcell: Complete Chamber Music

Music Amphion, Pieter-Jan Belder (Brilliant Classics)

2 September 2008 4 stars

Purcell's Chamber MusicBrilliant Classics' recent release gathers together every piece of music by Purcell for solo harpsichord or instrumental ensemble. The Dutch record label have been in existence for over twelve years and, having experienced much success in their own country, are now becoming increasingly popular worldwide. 

This 7 CD box set is very much in-keeping with their past releases and the company's ethos – to release recordings at both a high quality and a very competitive price. Indeed, the label's first releases included Bach's Brandenburg Concertos and Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Of course, one is so often forced to make a compromise with box sets of this nature – very often a great volume of music for a very reasonable price infers the quality of the contents will be distinctly average. Thankfully however, on this occasion, this is not the case. Musica Anphion's performance of this significant - if not entirely varied - material is heart-felt and compelling.

Attractively presented, the programme notes are clear and instructive, split into the different genres that Purcell utilises, as the CD themselves are, on the whole. The programming of each CD for the most part flows well. Even CD 6, comprising of 'miscellaneous pieces for the harpsichord', which on paper appears a little fragmented (each piece averages about a minute in length), works well in the devised order and Pieter-Jan Belder's sprightly performance of these short pieces makes for an enjoyable compilation.

Also a highlight in this compilation is Belder's fine interpretation of Purcell's Eight suites for harpsichord; full of life and energy one moment, intimate and atmospheric the next, Belder achieves an astounding variety of emotions within his performance.

The strings too, provide a great deal of colour and emotion in their performance, most notably in CD 4, which brings together Purcell's Fantasias for strings. These Fantasias – a genre of composition which was nigh-on obsolete by this time – show Purcell's strong connection with the late Renaissance composers, and his nostalgia for these past musical styles, long gone out of fashion. Remy Baudet's leading of the strings throughout these pieces results in wonderfully precise ensemble playing, and music that sinuously moves from wholesome and mellow to sprightly and light with the greatest of ease.

Even discounting his other vocal and operatic works, looking at the volume of music in this CD box set provokes the astounding realisation of just how prolific Purcell was in his mere 36 years of life. Whilst each CD provides sonic variety and interest, this is of course something more useful as a reference tool of sorts – ideal to have all of his chamber works on hand, yet far too great in quantity to take in all at once. This is of course, part of the reason it is such fantastically good value.

What makes this release noteworthy is its dual potential within the market place: not only is it appealing to those new to Classical music – reasonably priced and offering newcomers to Classical music a quick and easy way to boost their music collection with one purchase, it should also have great appeal to the hardened Purcell or Baroque fan, offering them an authoritative and sensitively performed collection, comprehensively covering Purcell's chamber output. This is sure to remain a valued part of Brilliant Classics' list for some time to come.

By Claudine Nightingale