Beauteous Softness / Mead, Bates, La Nuova Musica

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A Recording of the Month at Limelight Magazine! "Quite simply the finest – and the most finely sung – collection of songs by Purcell and his contemporaries that you are likely to hear."

Beauteous Softness is La Nuova Musica’s third Pentatone album, presenting restrained yet profoundly moving songs by seventeenth- century English composers such as Purcell, Blow, Humfrey and Webb. The album also showcases the rich musical context that provided the foundation from which Purcell rose to prominence. David Bates and his players perform them together with Tim Mead, one of today’s most outstanding countertenors.

La Nuova Musica and its artistic director David Bates are among the most exciting Baroque ensembles of today. Their Pentatone debut with Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice was both BBC Music Magazine’s Choice and Gramophone Editor’s Choice in December 2019, while Handel’s Unsung Heroes (2021) was BBC Music Magazine Recording of the Month and selected among the Best Classical Music Albums of 2022 by Gramophone. Tim Mead returns to the label after having starred in a complete recording of Handel’s Messiah (2020).


Mead grew up singing treble in Chelmsford Cathedral and was a choral scholar at King’s College, Cambridge before studying with Robin Blaze at the Royal College of Music. The songs and anthems of the English Restoration, you might say, are part of his DNA. What appeals to him most about Purcell’s music is its blend of subtlety and restraint. “This isn’t music that shouts to make itself heard or uses tricks to impress, yet still profoundly impacts its listener,” he writes in an astute program note. “It seems as if all emotion has been distilled into perfectly crafted gestures in which music and text are as one. A slight turn of phrase or small harmonic detail can be heavy with meaning.”

Pick any track on this generously compiled album and you see what he means. Every word is weighed, every phrase is shaped, and every lyric offers up its full meaning. Velvety and dark, his coppery countertenor is a ripe as a plum. And while he’s capable of floating effortlessly over a long lyrical line, he can also surprise with his vocal muscularity. Take, for example, the heroic weight he brings to bear on “The pale and purple rose” from The Yorkshire Feast Song, or the stream of anguished turmoil he pours forth in “O let me weep” from The Fairy Queen.

But perhaps his greatest gift is storytelling, ensuring that 70 minutes of largely contemplative songs are unlikely to lull anyone to sleep, beguilingly though he sings.

The disc engages from the outset with an involving account of “If music be the food of love,” one of Purcell’s most popular solo songs. Just listen to the sensual tone he wraps around the opening line, the passionate urgency he gives to the repeated phrase “sing on”, and the way he encourages the concluding word “joy” to blossom. He’s equally compelling in the introverted melancholy of “In the black dismal dungeon of despair,” but here he draws the listener in by holding the emotion in check rather than by any overt histrionics.

The Royal Welcome Odes are fertile ground for vocal dramatics and Mead seizes every opportunity. A sprightly account of “Be welcome then, great Sir” shows off an impressively connected lower register, while “By beauteous softness” is a chance to demonstrate his sleek command of the lyrical line and immaculate breath control. “Crown the altar” is all supple smoothness, while the caressed phrases and subtle decorative effects in “So when the qlitt’ring queen of night” are among the album’s most hypnotic pleasures.

Mead is buoyed throughout by the excellent musicians of La Nuova Musica under Artistic Director David Bate who judges everything just right. As a result, the listener can revel in both the manifold colours of Mead’s instrument and the alluring variety of Purcell’s orchestrations.

Judicious programming includes several lesser-known works by Purcell’s colleagues, including a searching account of Pelham Humfrey’s “A Hymn to God the Father” and the sublime “So ceas’d the rival crew when Purcell came”, from John Blow’s valedictory Ode on the death of Mr Henry Purcell.

A beautifully nuanced account of Purcell’s Evening Hymn, “Now that the sun hath veiled his light”, brings this outstanding recital to a close in a rapturous peal of “Allelujas”.

Product Description:

  • Release Date: March 24, 2023

  • Catalog Number: PTC5187047

  • UPC: 8717306260473

  • Label: PENTATONE

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: Baroque

  • Composer: Henry Purcell, John Blow, Pelham Humfrey

  • Conductor: David Bates

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: La Nuova Musica

  • Performer: Tim Mead