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Dramatist and poet James Shirley flourished during Charles I’s reign, admired at court for his masques and in the theatre for his plays. When Parliament banned public performances in 1642 Shirley continued to produce works for private use and his plays were revived when theatres re-opened in the Restoration. His output is largely forgotten today, though the Consort of Musicke has recorded Cupid and Death, a masque with music by Christopher Gibbons and Matthew Locke. Passamezzo’s album allows us to hear settings from a variety of Shirley’s plays, masques and poems, as well as instrumental pieces associated with his stage works. William Lawes is the predominant composer, with contributions from lesser-known figures such as Edward Coleman, John Hilton and Simon Ives.

I enjoyed Passamezzo’s earlier CD In Peascod Time and performances here are of a generally high standard too, with Emily Atkinson’s clear, expressive soprano especially notable. But the CD as a whole needs a greater sense of continuity and context. Several of the 31 tracks are quite short and there’s no studio ambience to connect them, so the sound goes dead when a track ends. The attractive songs deserve revival, but not all the instrumental music holds the same interest. In masques these pieces acted as an accompanying element in productions intended primarily to delight the eye, with elaborate scenic effects, gorgeous costumes and much dancing; hard to convey on a CD!

Jeremy Barlow Read the full review on Agora Classica


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