Purcell: The Fairy Queen; Incidental Music

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Several Eloquence releases have celebrated the pellucid timbre and vivid characterisation of the British soprano Jennifer Vyvyan. "A treasury to treasure" was the BBC Music Magazine's verdict on "Songs of England" (482 5045), a L'Oiseau Lyre recital from 1953. Four years later, she took part in the first complete recording of Purcell's masque, 'The Fairy Queen' (reissued as 482 7449) where again her shapely phrasing and sharply etched tone-painting drew critical praise. As a founding member of the English Opera Group, Vyvyan had by then become a favourite soprano for Benjamin Britten, who created a string of roles for her: 'Queen of Aldeburgh', she was called by her colleague, the baritone Thomas Hemsley. So it was inevitable that Vyvyan should take so prominent a part in the second, (almost) complete '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."