What the Critics say... 


Naxos 8.553982


Suites and Transcriptions for Harpsichord
Henry Purcell


Eight Suites Z.660-668
Overture in gamut flat (The Virtuous Wife) Z.T693
Chaconne in G minor Z.T680
A New Ground in E minor Z.T682
Overture in C (Bonduca Z.574/1)
Overture in D (The Fairy Queen) Z.T692
Overture in D minor (King Arthur) Z.628/2
Round O (Abdelazer) Z.T684


" Keyboard players have always regretted that so little of Purcell’s music for them has survived: it consists mainly of eight very small suites of pieces put together after his death by his widow, plus a few dance movements and suchlike. Terence Charlston puts up a spirited defence of the suites for their absorption of Italian and French influences (hence the written-out notes inegales) into a recognizably English style, their diversity of texture and their melodic invention; but the late Professor Westrup’s claim that they are worthy predecessors of Bach’s suites takes no account of the difference of scale involved. The quality of some individual movements stands out, however – for example the Almands of Nos. 2 and 8, the Corant and Hornpipe of No. 7. Quite recently we had two very pleasurable recordings of the suites, from Sophie Yates and Olivier Baumont. Charlston steers, as it were, a middle course between the freshness but sobriety of the one and the fantasy and boldness of the other. He shows fine clarity of finger and of ornamentation and plenty of spirit, but obviously believes in maintaining strict tempos throughout – perhaps excessively so in the New Ground (one of the extras he includes), in view of its vocal origin. Also included are transcriptions (not all definitely by Purcell himself) of half a dozen theatre pieces – some of which have not been previously recorded. Among the most attractive are an Overture in gamut flat from the The Virtuous Wife and an Overture in C, ending in gloriously bold chromaticisms, from Bonduca. He plays the alternative Preludes to the second and fourth suites (in addition to the usual ones) but not the A minor Jig played by Baumont, as the manuscript of this was not available three-and-a-half years ago when the present disc was made." 


Record of the Month CLASSIC FM MAGAZINE MARCH 1998

"The Purcell tercentenary celebrations seem a world away, back in 1995, and all the enter-prising releases which for the layman consolidated his, reputation as England's musical 'bard', Since then, there have been very few notable Purcell recordings but for a mini-revival look no further than the home-grown harpsichord virtuoso Terence Charlston for an Infection of Purcell's heady act. Charlston's disc of Suites and Transcriptions for Harpsichord (Naxos 6.553982) is a performance of calculated elegance and focused spontaneity, The Suites are less well known than the great dramatic, string or sacred works but they display a refinement, melodic shape and beauty of invention which is sure to delight a broad listenership. The contemporary transcriptions of famous Purcell opera tunes are infectious and boldly rendered."


The flying inkpot 

Henry Purcell, whose tercentenary we celebrated in 1995, is absolutely without doubt the greatest, most magnificent setter to music of the English language. Like Shakespeare, no Englishman has done more nor matched the proficiency, magic and beauty of their artistic work with the English language. Purcell ("PER'sl" is one of the many unverified ways to pronounce it) not only caught every single nuance, every rhythmic idiosyncrasy of this messy language, he did the best thing possible: to turn the language into music.

Likewise, the keyboard music of the English Renaissance and Baroque (from Tallis to Byrd to Bull to Handel) has always retained, almost stubbornly, the flavour of "Englishness", that unmistakable melancholy of the Isles and the vigourous dances of the English folk.

This collection of harpsichord pieces is centred on the Eight Suites from "A choice Collection of Lessons for the Harpsichord", published posthumously by Purcell's wife, who was widowed when he died tragically at the age of only 36.

The "suites" in these times were of course dance suites of the Italian or French mould. Almost all begin with an expository, introductory prelude, which like an overture, sets the mood of the suite and its key. As such, one thing the harpsichordist needs to do is to make an impression, even when the Prelude to the First Suite is only 33 seconds long! The preludes are followed by dances of the Almand, Corant, Minuet, Saraband (etc.) variety, each with a wide range of moods, all very easy listening.

In his notes, harpsichordist Terence R. Charlston explains how Purcell "goes to great length to express the French convention of notes inéales (where a passage of even note is given an uneven lilt by holding every other note a little longer than its written value.)" I'm no keyboardist so information like this - and Naxos has the kind of sleeve notes very very few companies can match - offers a chance for musical enlightenment. You can hear this effect quite clearly once you understand what Mr. Charlston, Head of Early Music at the Royal Academy of Music, means. And it adds to the emotional and expressive qualities of both the music and the player. Plus of course Purcell himself, whose vocal music can be extremely moving in the best of the English melancholia traditions.

Purcell was very famous for his incidental music for theatre - in fact here's another Andrew Lloyd Webber who could have given Handel a run for his money. The Suites were written more for the specialist player, while the general public was more interested in the theatre stuff, as Charlston notes. To help with the sales of the published scores, transcriptions of theatre music were included - and it so is here. (In fact, a certain saxophonist has done the same thing with a certain irritating song about a big sunken ship.) This disc is tracked according to the sequence above. To be honest, the differences between the Suites and the theatre transcriptions are not always obvious, but they do make for interesting breaks between each Suite in a 38-track CD (which explains why I have no intention of going into detail). Most of the pieces here, by the way, are between 1-2 minutes.

Anyway, some of the theatre bits are quite remarkable, as in the relentless finality of the G minor Chaconne from Timon of Athens or the very famous tune of the "Round O" (rondeau) from Abdelazer. All Britten fans should know that this is the basic theme used in his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. The harpsichord transcription here is fascinating in its revealing the surprisingly dissonant chords of the original, in the same way Liszt's piano transcriptions of the Beethoven Symphonies do.

A whole disc of harpsichord music can be very tiring. Fortunately, Charlston's playing of these little pieces are genial and purposeful, neither too forceful (which can make the harpsichord sound pretty violent) nor too bland. Though I still wouldn't advise listening to this in a single stretch, it's perfect evening fare in little thoughtful doses, especially at such a price.


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