On record: Purcell – Twelve Sonatas of Three Parts (Vivat)


The King’s Consort play Purcell’s collection of twelve sonatas published in 1683. In the words of the Vivat label website, they ‘combine French elegance, Italian vigour and delicious English melancholy with harmonic daring, extraordinary contrapuntal technique, ravishing dissonances and unique melodic ingenuity’. Clearly Purcell was anticipating a united Europe!

What’s the music like?

Purcell is one of the most obviously expressive composers of the Baroque period, and even his instrumental music has strong vocal qualities. His music here also experiences relatively rapid mood swings, the individual movements of the sonatas capable of switching quickly from grave, browbeaten music to melodies that are full of the joys of spring.

There are dances too, such as the one a minute or so into Sonata no.8, or the enjoyable repeated-note motif that closes out the first movement of Sonata no.2.

When the English melancholy does make itself known the results are rather special, such as the sumptuous beginning to Sonata no.6, where the strings make a sweet sound. By complete contrast the start of Sonata no.4 is relatively stark, bringing Purcell’s daring discords to the surface – before moving into a resolute faster section.

Does it all work?

Yes. There is some beautifully poised playing on this collection, as the staged entries in Sonata no.8 confirm. Violinists Cecilia Bernardini and Huw Daniel are blessed with beautiful, penetrating tones, and the continuo section – bass viol, theorbo and organ or harpsichord – alternates its colours sensitively and effectively, a prime example being the wonderful organ sound half way through the first movement of Sonata no.3. The fugue halfway the first movement of Sonata no.12 sums things up very nicely.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Purcell’s vocal music tends to get the headlines but this disc shows just how imaginative and effective his writing for instruments could be.


You can get a preview of each track from this disc on the Vivat website

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