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Vox Luminis: Purcell’s King Arthur — Vox Luminis give a fresh take on the imaginative semi-opera

Vox Luminis: Purcell’s King Arthur — Vox Luminis give a fresh take on the imaginative semi-opera

February 05
10:50 2019

In 1691, Purcell and Dryden joined forces to create a patriotic pageant for their times. Their semi-opera King Arthur pits a plucky army of Britons against the heathen Saxons and concludes with a celebratory masque depicting Britain as the envy of the world, a land famed for its fishing and agriculture.

Fully staged productions that include Dryden’s indigestible play are, understandably few and far between. The most spectacular in recent memory was the staging given at the Royal Opera House to mark the 300th anniversary of Purcell’s death in 1995 and that, ironically, was instigated and performed by a visiting French company, William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants. It was a fun show, making much of Purcell’s infectious sense of humour and ending with the upbeat vision of Britannia emerging from the recently opened Channel tunnel.

It goes without saying that now could be an apposite time to turn to King Arthur again. Ensembles from Europe have been prominent in recent years, not just Les Arts Florissants, but also Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel, and now Lionel Meunier and his Vox Luminis, notable in the past for their recordings of the German Baroque.

Their performance of King Arthur, recorded live in Antwerp last January (music only, not the play), is delightfully fresh and subtle in its musicianship. By and large English performers prefer a more rumbustious take on Purcell, but Meunier’s lighter touch is well judged. Some other recordings feature more obviously starry singers, but Vox Luminis fields a likeable array of mostly light, period voices, who live up to the enchantment of their setting. Purcell’s music is so irrepressibly tuneful and imaginative. How could anybody go wrong?


King Arthur’ is released by Alpha Classics

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