MUSIC / A maggot un-masqued: Nicholas Williams on modern realisations of Purcell

Facts about Henry Purcell are as hard to come by as facts about Shakespeare, which is bad news for anyone planning celebrations for the tercentenary of his death next year. Even more depressing could be the realisation that, with most of his work now purloined by the early music brigade, the standard orchestra will be a mute swan in terms of saluting the achievement of possibly our greatest composer.

Mark Elder suggested as much on Wednesday evening at Christ Church, Spitalfields, when he playfully remarked that Britten's edition of Purcell's Chacony might not be quite in line with current standards of authenticity. True, Britten's Purcell 'realisations', noted in their own time, may be sources of regret for today's purists. But his comment also implied that, rather than return to the originals, a way forward for modern festivals would be to explore the matter from the opposite direction - through the creative interaction of Purcell with his successors.

In fact, this concluding concert of the Spitalfields Festival, though not a tribute as such, was a model of how it should be done. The Chacony itself stood for the Purcell- Britten axis, in a warm, relaxed account by the City of London Sinfonia, making the most of cunningly voiced string textures that were inimitably Britten for all their devotion to the older composer. In addition, the enigmatic Lachrymae, with Stephen Tees the competent soloist in the later version for strings and viola, showed Britten paying respect to another figure, Dowland, through a closely woven variation set that hovered between Jacobean and contemporary sounds.

In both pieces the composer's interest lay in the lyrical, formal scope of an earlier art. By contrast, John Buller, in his festival commission Mr Purcell's Maggot, touched on another area of Purcell's activity: his involvement with the opera-masque. As composer of ENO's recent Bacchae, and with a pedigree of involvement in Greek drama, Buller's interest in Purcell's theatre seems only natural. At the same time, in spirit and technique, the work as likely drew influence from a more recent homage to the masque tradition: Hugh Wood's classic 1960s score, Scenes from Milton's Comus.

The text, a blend of forest episodes from Dryden's King Arthur with the 'Dark Wood' of Dante's Inferno, was shared by the Joyful Company of Singers and the tenor Thomas Randle; his sinuous arioso, sung with vigorous conviction, swooped and soared in perfect rendition of the words above the snarling trombone and knotted woodwind that formed the principal texture of the work. Notable interludes for double bassoon and cello (shades here of Britten's Death in Venice), and later for high violins, were framed by choral chants and hollow string chords like eerie footfalls in the night.

But leading where? The 'maggot' of the title - not the anglers' bait, but an old word for a trifle or fancy - seemed wide of the mark for serious music with a pulse of its own and a sense of expectation. The ending was premature; more was needed for the complete picture. If this is work in progress, further developments could indeed prove intriguing.

Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
The party's over: Paul Higgins and Stella Gonet in 'Hope' at the Royal Court

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special

Broadcaster unveils Christmas schedule

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital