Dido's hero goes golden
In last week's review of English National Opera's After Dido on this blog, I omitted to mention that the violinist Matthew Truscott had been the hero of the opening night when he stepped in at the last to lead the band gracefully and persuasively through the twists and turns of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. He is a brilliant Purcellian.
Now a CD comes my way on which Truscott is joined by fiddle Sophie Gent, bass viol Jonathan Manson and harpsichordist Matthew Halls to play, as the Retrospect Trio (keyboards don't count in baroque trios), Purcell's Ten Sonatas in Four Parts. No1 shares an almost identical first chord to that of Dido and I was immediately transported to a world of tragic sensibilities. The violinists' ornaments slither dangerously and the quick dances tread with guilty lightness. Manson's bass viol darkens the depths with growls and cavernous resonance while Halls' harpsichord buzzes with a colourful electric, not to say indispensable, twang.
The highpoint comes just after halfway with Sonata No 6 which makes one wonder whether the entire set wasn't intended to be played as a sequence. This crowning sonata is a long, single-movement adagio consisting of fiddles intertwining with ever-increasing invention above an untiring ground bass, high and low never cadencing together until the satisfying final bar.
The rest run home with bittersweet steps in short breathless allegros and churning largos. The reason the Ninth is known as The Golden Sonata has been lost in the mists of time. It is no more golden than the others though the plaints drawn from the slow grave have a deliciously metallic hue and the final allegro bounces like a peal of bells.
The press release for the CD tells me that the Retrospect Trio was 'formerly known as the King's Consort' of which harpsichordist Halls was artistic director until this year. The King's Consort under Robert King was once responsible for recording almost every note of Henry Purcell on Hyperion discs, many of which are still available. The Retrospect Trio is part of the Retrospect Ensemble of whom we will doubtless be hearing more.