Top critical review
Wonderful and awful in equal parts
on December 18, 2001
This is a great collection of songs,mostly taken from d'Urfey's "Pills to purge melancholy", along with some catches from Purcell etc included. It's hard to find the ideal recording of this sort of ribald stuff- it seems each recording has some flaws.
The Baltimore consort, with Custer La Rue as chief vocal have done an incredible job with this music. I never get tired of her lovely voice, and the life she brings to these songs. The instrumentals are fabulous (mixed consort settings on period instruments). Two of the best numbers are "cold and raw the wind did blow"...and "my thing is my own"- these typify the wonderful momentum and gorgeous musical phrasing they bring to the music- five stars for them.
Unfortunately, the album includes songs from a group of male vocalists who gathered together as "the merry companions". What a huge mistake. The inside of the program notes shows them gathered around some tankards of ale. I think they must have spent too much time drinking and no time at all thinking (or rehearsing). The vocals are brash and not well-tuned and for such lively content, they are sometimes sluggish too. They went for the "rugged tavern" sound at the expense of the music. If I were at a tavern or renaissance faire, and heard some drunken louts singing these catches, I'd love it- what wonderful fun! But this is a CD that I paid to listen to, and they should have rehearsed. I don't like to pay for this kind of impromptu junk- if D'Urfey and Purcell bothered to write it down and set it to notes, the performers should get it right and it should sound like music. Often they have chosen to set these in too low a register, or without instrumentals that might help lift up the sluggish character.
In the end, this is a great car CD- where I can easily forward past the bad songs and repeat the good ones, and of course I can make sure not to offend anybody....
By the way, for those interested in more songs like these,get "The Catch Book : 153 Catches Including the Complete: Catches of Henry Purcell, edited by Paul Hillier. Then the only problem is finding the other people to sing them with you!
A hard to find, but infinitely enjoyable alternative recording is "Pills to purge melancholy: Low & Lusty-Songs From 17th C" recorded by the city waites. The instrumentals are more a little rough, but very well done -just completely different from baltimore consort. On this album, the male vocals are best, while the soprano is sometimes is a bit harsh. The merry companions would have done well to listen to this before making their recording.