Purcell, Handel

Miriam Allan, soprano, with Ironwood
Classical, Early Music
ABC Classics 476 4997
Reviewed by , July 1st, 2014

Miriam Allan, born in Newcastle (Australia), has a fine soprano voice well suited to the music of the Baroque period. It is flexible, clear and excellently tuned. She has carved an impressive international career performing mainly works by Purcell, Handel, Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi and Monteverdi. This CD is with Ironwood, an ensemble of nine players, who use period instruments to give historically informed performances.

Soprano Miriam Allan

Soprano Miriam Allan

First up are 12 works by Purcell- 7 renowned arias from The Fairy Queen, The Indian Queen, King Arthur and Oedipus, interspersed with instrumental pieces. Then follows Handel’s Trio Sonata in G major, Op. 5 No.4 ( 1739) which resembles a suite of dances and is not often heard, and  finally Handel’s wonderful motet Silete venti HWV242 –  a Latin sacred cantata (1720). It has two long arias with recitatives linking them and a concluding “Alleluia”. The CD notes by Lynne Murray are very interesting with detailed information about the historical background to these works, and the disc cover features an exquisite decorative painting of birds from the period by Tobias Stranover (1684-1756).

Despite the beautiful presentation and the excellence of the pieces chosen, I just could not get excited about this disc.  Allan does not seem connected emotionally with the texts. The result is that the different arias take on a surprisingly similar quality. I was only moved by the sheer beauty of “Music for a While” (Purcell) where she weaves a most beguiling and soothing sound cocoon.  I soon realised that the problem was compounded by the lack of vitality in Ironwood’s playing.  This was particularly noticeable in the “Alleluia “of the Silete Venti. It needed far more sparkle to complement Allan’s effortless coloratura to give the performance a truly joyful feeling. Handel’s Trio Sonata suffered from the same fate – the playing lacks vitality and one loses interest.

Ironwood

Ironwood

So I suspect this disc will go on my shelf and only occasionally be taken out to provide some very pleasant background music.

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