WHAT is melancholy?

It's beyond anger and loss, beyond even grief and mere sadness. Whatever it is, it is imbued with a strong sense of reflection. No composer ever captured melancholy more tellingly than Henry Purcell; and the great Lament from Dido And Aeneas is perhaps the most ravishing and heart- pulling exemplar of the state. But it's there too in these exquisite Ten Sonatas In Four Parts, collected after Purcell's death by his widow, Frances, to whom his manuscripts were bequeathed. (The manuscript is in the British Library.) They are wonderful pieces for two violins, bass viol and a continuo group of theorbo with chamber organ. They are all short, packed with harmonic invention, some amazing melodic dissonance and, in this tremendous performance by Robert King's Consort, that aching melancholy, never far away, even in quick, lively sections. This is great music, little known and seldom played. Treat yourself; and a superior malt whisky provides a fine accompaniment.

Michael Tumelty

Loading article content