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Chaconnes and fantasias
Emerson String Quartet
Decca Gold 4815204
Benjamin Britten’s interest in the music of his great Baroque predecessor Henry Purcell extended far beyond basing his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra on the Rondeau from Purcell’s Abdelazer suite.
Purcell’s songs were championed in Britten’s own idiosyncratic arrangements for piano and voice.Purcell’s music for string consort also exerted a fascination for Britten whose String Quartet No 2 contains a Chacony: a direct homage to Purcell’s ‘chaconne’ for four-part string ensemble. Britten made a performing edition of Purcell’s Chacony in the late 1950s (revised in 1963), and this is the version used by the Emerson String Quartet – here celebrating their 40th anniversary with the first release on Decca’s new Decca Gold label – in a fascinating programme which also includes a selection of Purcell’s Fantazias for viol consort along with Britten’s Second and Third String Quartets.
Despite some three centuries and enormous stylistic differences separating the two composers, their music complements each other’s rather well – which is unsurprising, given Britten’s updating of archaic forms and Purcell’s love of dissonance and complexity.Unsurprising too, in this instance, given the Emersons’ insightful and highly expressive readings, which find the modern in Purcell and the ancient in Britten while maintaining a stylistic consistency which somehow honours the distinctive characteristics of both composers’ music.