Although a small number of Purcell's church works are regulars on the services of Britain's cathedrals and collegiate choral establishments, the majority of his output for the church is seldom heard. In church, the string accompaniments today are often played on an organ, losing Purcell's appealing string textures that are such a defining feature of the works. We are fortunate at Emmanuel to have the string compliment as Purcell intended.
Rather than the regal dotted-rhythm march of the French symphonic overture, Purcell chose to open this anthem with a "ground" bass, in fivefold ostinato, that mimics a descending peal of bells, thus its commonly used title “The Bell Anthem.” A trio of soloists introduces a buoyant triple-meter refrain, declaiming the main text, "Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4). A string ritornello echoes it, and then the second vocal trio briefly extends the text. Finally, the full choir enters with the refrain. Another complete "symphony" follows, and the bass soloist sings a more soloistic passage as an exhortation to prayer. The trio relaxes into a slower duple meter for the benediction. The strings echo this, and a trio of triple refrains (again in the order soloists, strings, choir) closes the anthem.
© Ryan Turner