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The Purcell Project

29 April 2017 @ 8:00 pm

Early Music Society of the Islands - The Purcell Project

Doors open at 6:45 pm. Pre-concert talk at 7:10 pm.

Karina Gauvin, soprano
Francis Colpron, recorder and direction

Les Boréades de Montréal

Canada’s own superstar soprano joins forces with the exciting musicians of Les Boréades baroque orchestra to perform Henry Purcell’s sacred and secular songs, some of the very finest in the English language.

Gauvin sings with passion, ingratiating charm, sincerity and utter conviction INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW

Visit the website of Karina Gauvin
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Chaconne (King Arthur, Z.628, 1691)

Hither, This Way (King Arthur)

How Blest Are The Shepherds (King Arthur)

Music For A While (Oedipus, Z.583, 1692)

Shepherds, Shepherds (King Arthur)

Third Act Hornpipe (King Arthur)

See, Even Night Herself Is Here (The Fairy Queen, Z.629, 1692)

One Charming Night (The Fairy Queen)

Prelude (Aux Flûtes) (The Fairy Queen)

If Love’s A Sweet Passion (The Fairy Queen)

Prelude (Aux Cordes) (The Fairy Queen)

From Rosy Bowers (Don Quixote, 1695


While The Swans Come Forward (The Fairy Queen)

Fairest Isle (King Arthur)

An Evening Hymn (Recueil Harmonia Sacra, Z.193,1688)

Now The Night Is Chas’d Away (The Fairy Queen)

Prelude (The Fairy Queen)

O Let Me Ever, Ever Weep (The Fairy Queen)

Strike The Viol (Ode Come Ye Sons Of Art, Away, Z.323, 1694)

Trumpet Tune (King Arthur)

Hark! The Echoing Air (The Fairy Queen)

Air (King Arthur)

When I Am Laid In Earth (Dido And Æneas, Z.626, 1689)


The Author’s extraordinary Tallent in all sorts of Music, is sufficiently known; but he was particularly admir’d for his Vocal, having a peculiar Genius to express the Energy of English Words, whereby he mov’d the Passions as well as caus’d Admiration in all his Auditors.

Henry Playford, Orpheus Britannicus, 1698.

Henry Purcell was only thirty-six years old when he died and the posts he occupied were relatively modest: organist at both Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal and harpsichordist for the king’s private music. Yet, he composed in all the genres of his period – vocal and instrumental, sacred and profane.

A considerable part of his generous output was written for the stage. Plays, including comedies and tragedies that were sometimes mediocre, served as vehicles for many pieces of music: overtures, dances, airs, and act or curtain tunes. These were all more or less integrated into the dramatic framework of the plays. Opera was an Italian invention that had not taken hold in England. Despite many attempts, it had not unseated the musical theatre of which the English were so fond. For several decades, the favoured genre was the masque, a mixture of vocal music and dance. Masques were written on allegorical or exotic subjects and were presented with sumptuous sets and costumes. They were, in a sense, the equivalent of the ballets de cour that had been so popular in France since the sixteenth century. The masque was a princely diversion, much in favour during the reign of Charles I. However, the enchantment and the fantasy it provided were characteristic of most forms of entertainment in England during this period.

Purcell wrote only one real opera – Dido and Aeneas. It was a modest production commissioned in 1689 by a boarding school for girls in Chelsea whose director was Josias Priest. The opera was inspired by John Blow’s Venus and Adonis. Some believe that the work had been previously presented at court with Mary Davies in the role of the Queen of Carthage. This masterpiece of brevity and depth of expression ends with the air When I Am Laid in Earth. Abandoned by Aeneas, the heroine sings the celebrated lament before ending her life. As Nanie Bridgman explained, “this lament of Dido, while so short, reaches the heights of emotion and is one of the most beautiful moments in the entire history of music.” An Evening Hymn, which appeared in 1688 in a collection of airs entitled Harmonica Sacra written for use in domestic worship, is a celebrated piece based on a ground, as the basso ostinato was known in England. Similarly, Music For a While was inserted into the Oedipus of John Dryden. Purcell used the very constraints imposed by this form to find new ways to evoke sadness and suffering; he offered audacious harmonies, often recurring to chromaticism, and played with the ambiguity between modality and tonality. And throughout, as Jack A. Westrup explained, “the vocal line is adjusted to disguise the repetition of the bass.”

During his final years, Purcell composed five particularly elaborate theatrical scores called “semi-operas” by Roger North. These pieces were not planned as a series of optional interpolations. Completely integrated into the dramas, they participated in the unfolding of the plays through scenes showing ceremonies, supernatural tableaux, or pastoral episodes, which were most often performed by secondary characters. These masques of various magnitudes alternated, as divertissements or interludes, with the dialogue. Thus, in the words of William Christie, “Purcell created a series of mirrors that reflect the action, but that also subtly reveal ambiguities, underline the tensions at work in the piece, or throw an ironic light on certain themes, considerably enriching the initial frame-work of the piece.” In his semi-operas, Purcell had recourse to an imposing orchestra, adding woodwinds and brass to the strings. In the overtures, the dances, the instrumentation, and the accompaniment to the voices, he showed himself to be the disciple of Lully. Yet he even surpassed the French master in his range of inspiration, his elaboration of the inner parts, and his harmonic invention, while his vocal lines blend Italian fluidity with the sonorities and colors of the English language.

Presented in June 1691 at the Dorset Gardens Theatre, King Arthur or The British Worthy was the fruit of the close collaboration between Dryden and Purcell. It tells the story of the victory of King Arthur’s Britons over King Oswald’s Saxons. If, in the view of Roland de Candé, the work, “makes you laugh with its excessive chauvinism,” it nevertheless contains elements of remarkable ingenuity, liveliness, and expression. In the second act, the elf Philidel leads the armed Britons through the night (Hither This Way) while shepherds and shepherdesses entertain the lovely Emmeline, Arthur’s beloved (How Blest are Shepherds and Shepherd, Shepherd, Leave Decoying). In the fifth-act air Fairest Isle, Venus evokes the miraculous birth of Britannia, the island where the united Britons and Saxons will live forever in love and harmony.

The Fairy Queen premiered in May of 1692 at Dorset Gardens in an expensive and extravagant production – conceived as a revision of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Many people consider the poetic imagination and incomparable humour that Purcell employed in his magnificent score respect more closely the spirit of the original work than Alkanah Settle’s adaptation of the text which lacked a single, authentic line. Here, according to Christie, “English Baroque musical theatre, a complete and protean show, highly diverting and rich in emotions and in contrasts, attains its summit.” The masques of each act show the to-ing and fro-ing and magical powers of Titania and Oberon, the lovelorn Queen and the King of the fairies. In the second act, Night (See, Even Night Herself is Here), Mystery, Secresie (One Charming Night), and Sleep put Titania to sleep. In the third act, the air If Love’s a Sweet Passion accompanies the love of Titania for the ass Bottom, the result of a magic potion. Now the Night is Chac’d Away is sung in the fourth act to announce the arrival of Phoebus in his chariot. In the fifth and final act, the air Hark! The Echoing Air announces the triumph of love and the reconciliation of the couples. In this score – the longest that Purcell wrote for the stage – “the melodic, rhythmic, and instrumental invention of Purcell is inexhaustible,” according to Roland de Candé, “and his rich and refined writing makes use of all styles and all techniques.”

In the 1698 edition of the collected airs of Purcell entitled Orpheus Britannicus, Henry Playford stated that From Rosy Bowers was, “the last song the author sett, it being in his sickness.” Inserted into The Comical History of Don Quixote, a comedy by Thomas D’Urfey performed in 1695, the air develops into a veritable scena presented in five contrasting sections. It is sung by Altisidore, a role played at the time by the very young Letitia Cross, who wants to seduce Don Quixote away from Dulcinea. According to William Christie, it is an air of madness, “wrung with emotions heightened by abrupt changes in tempo and by unexpected modulations and dissonances.” To illustrate the connections between excitement, disappointment in love, and madness, D’Urfey planned the following sequence which Purcell respected perfectly: Sullenly Mad – Mirthfully Mad (a swift Movement) – Melancholy Madness – Fantastically Mad – Stark Mad.

The theatrical music of Purcell stands alone in making use of the vitality and suppleness of the English language, while demonstrating an exceptional diversity of tones and atmospheres. Nothing, in effect, was beyond his inspiration — the joys and torments of love, the pain of abandonment, the mysteries of the night, the raving of madness — each is given the most perfect tone imaginable. John Dryden, who cared about the compatibility of poetry and music, declared that he was delighted with his collaboration with the musician, admiring the perfection of English music, “through the Artful hands of Mr. Purcell.” He added that, “with so great a Genius… he has nothing to fear but an ignorant, ill-judging Audience.”

It is difficult to learn much about the personalities of musicians who lived in the distant past; often we have only anecdotes or evidence that is questionable and second-hand. Some rare writings describe Purcell as an affable man, spontaneous, generous towards musicians, loyal to friends, and able to laugh. He was happy in his marriage although his children died young, as often happened in that period. That is about all one can say about the man himself, despite the very personal accents that we can sometimes detect in his music. Romantic ideology would have us relate the composition of certain works to ups and downs in the life of their creator; we would search in vain for such a connection with Purcell and his contemporaries. It is tempting, at times, to examine the sensitivity, the melancholy poetry, and the feverish vigour given off by the art of the British Orpheus, as well as the strained harmonies and the “angular qualities” of his melodies, in the words of Manfred Bukofzer, and try to read therein a portrait of the personality and feelings of the composer. Nothing could be less certain. The vein of nostalgia that he manifested was everywhere in the England of his time. All we can agree upon is that he expressed it more exquisitely than his contemporaries!

From text by François Filiatrault

(translated by Sally Campbell)


Karina Gauvin

Lauded for her work in the Baroque repertoire, Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin sings Bach, Mahler, Britten, and music of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with equal mastery. She was awarded “Soloist of the Year” by the Communauté Internationale des Radios Publiques de Langue Française, first prize in the CBC Radio Competition for Young Performers, the Virginia Parker Prize, and the Maggie Teyte Memorial Prize in London. Karina Gauvin’s extensive discography – over thirty titles – has won numerous awards, including several Opus Prizes as well as the Chamber Music America Award for her Fête Galante disc with pianist Marc-André Hamelin.

She has sung with elite symphony orchestras, including the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, the San Francisco Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, as well as baroque orchestras such as Les Talens Lyriques, the Venice Baroque Orchestra, Accademia Bizantina, Il Complesso Barocco, the Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin, Tafelmusik, and Les Violons du Roy.

Gauvin has portrayed a wide range of Baroque heroines from Alcina (Handel) with Les Talens Lyriques to Ariadne in Georg Conradi’s Die Schöne Und Getreue Ariadne for the Boston Early Music Festival. She sang Seleuce in Handel’s Tolomeo with Alan Curtis with whom she has also recorded Handel operas on the ARCHIV/Deutsche Grammophon, Virgin, and Naïve labels. She performed in Tito Manlio (Vivaldi) in Brussels and at the Barbican in London, in Ezio (Handel) in Paris and Vienna, in Giulio Cesare (Handel) in Paris and Vienna, as well as in Juditha Triumphans (Vivaldi) with Andrea Marcon at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Her performances with the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra earned her nominations at the Grammy Awards in 2007 and 2009.

Karina Gauvin recently performed the role of the Princess in Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges with the Rotterdam Philharmonic and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, and she sang in Bach’s Johannes Passion on tour in Canada and at Carnegie Hall in New York with Les Violons du Roy and Bernard Labadie. Future seasons promise to be exciting: she will sing Armida in Handel’s Rinaldo at the Glyndebourne Festival, Giunone in Cavalli’s Callisto at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Vitellia in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, and Gluck’s Armide with the Netherlands Opera.

Les Boréades

Les Boréades de Montréal with its focus on early music, was founded by Francis Colpron in 1991. The ensemble’s interpretive approach honours the spirit of the Baroque era in performing on period instruments, respectful of historically-informed practices. Critics and audiences have unanimously hailed the group’s energy and spontaneity as well as its theatrical, expressive, and elegant playing – all indicative of a flair for Baroque aesthetics.

Each year, Les Boréades, with an array of international guest artists (many of whom  have been broadcast by the CBC) gives a series of concerts at Montréal’s historic Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel. It has toured extensively in Canada and abroad and is the recipient of funding from the governments of Canada and Québec. It has also performed at the Frick Collection in New York, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Salle Gaveau in Paris, Vancouver Festival, Musikfest Bremen, Alter Musik Regensburg, and at numerous other festivals. The ensemble won the Prix Opus for Best Performance (Conseil Québécois De La Musique) not only in December 1999 but also a year later for Best Recording in Early and Classical Music.

Les Boréades boasts fifteen recordings on the Atma Classique label featuring renowned artists
such as Hervé Niquet, Skip Sempé, Manfredo Kraemer, Alex Weimann, and Eric Milnes. In 2006, Hyver, with Karina Gauvin, was nominated for The Juno Best Classical Album of the Year: Vocal or Choral Performance and has also been nominated for an award at the ADISQ Gala. Purcell, again featuring Karina Gauvin, was also nominated for the Juno for Best Classical Album of the Year: Vocal or Choral Performance.

Where does the name “Les Boréades” come from?

The Boreads (Les Boréades in French) were Zetes and Calais, the winged sons of the god of the north wind, Boreas. Their father was the son of Eos (goddess of the dawn) and of Astraeus. The brothers were Titans, beings from Greek mythology who personify the elemental forces of nature. Zetes, the more spirited of the two, was associated with quests. Calais, the temperamental one, personified the turquoise sea.


29 April 2017
8:00 pm


Alix Goolden Hall, Victoria Conservatory of Music
907 Pandora Avenue
Victoria, BC V8V 3P4 Canada
250 386-5311


29 April 2017
8:00 pm


Alix Goolden Hall, Victoria Conservatory of Music
907 Pandora Avenue
Victoria, BC V8V 3P4 Canada
250 386-5311