The Purcell Quartet (= PQ) [Robert Woolley - harpsichord & organ; Catherine Mackintosh - violin; Catherine Weiss - violin; Richard Boothby - cello] was founded in 1983. The debut recital came after six months intensive preparation on Febraury 14, 1984 at St. John’s, Smith Square in London. Since then, it has undergone just one change of membership, replacing Elizabeth Wallfisch as second violin, with Catherine Weiss. Through nearly 50 recordings of a huge range of repertory, they have established themselves as leaders in the area of Baroque chamber music. Nor is their repertory limited by size - in 1998 they staged an extensive tour of Japan of Monteverdi’s last opera L’Incoronazione di Poppea, and earlier had presented a critically-acclaimed sell-out Bach weekend at the Wigmore Hall in London with two of the Lutheran Masses, early cantatas and harpsichord concerti. Tess Knighton wrote in the Times “The “minimalist” approach as adopted by the Purcell Quartet draws the listener into the textual and musical rhetoric in an intimate and immediate way, and with singers and players as excellent as these the experience is utterly convincing.” In such productions, they work with the very finest soloists: Susan Gritton, Nancy Argenta, Catherine Bott, Emma Kirkby, Julia Gooding, Michael Chance, Dominique Visse, Guy de Mey, Mark Padmore, Charles Daniels, Peter Harvey & Richard Wistreich are just some of the singers with whom they have recently worked.
During their 20 years together, the group has toured the world, including the USA, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Turkey and all the countries of Europe. They have been regular visitors to Japan for over 10 years, taking, in addition to 1998’s Poppea, a ter-centenary production of Dido & Æneas with Nancy Argenta. At home in the UK they have played for most of the major festivals, have recorded extensively for the BBC, and toured several times with the Early Music Network. In the Bach year 2000, they presented several programmes of his music, including two concerts of early cantatas at the Spitalfields Festival, Lutheran Masses in Budapest, harpsichord concerti in Salzburg and another sell-out concert at the Wigmore Hall of funeral cantatas on the very anniversary day, July 28, 2000.
After a series of six recordings for Hyperion Records, they have recorded exclusively for Chandos Records since 1987, having made thirty-six discs with a huge range of music - Purcell, Arcangelo Corelli, Lawes, J.S. Bach, Händel, Antonio Vivaldi, Matthias Weckmann, Leclair, Heinrich Schütz, Dietrich Buxtehude & Biber have all had discs devoted to them. The critical response has been consistently enthusiastic - JFA in the Gramophone wrote recently “I am drawn to the sheer beauty and intimacy of the ensemble playing here...A strongly recommended new release.” One of their recent release features music from the dynamic and brilliant world of 17th -century Italy under title 'Capriccio Stravagante' and George Pratt writing in The BBC Music Magazine (where it was "Pick of the Month") described it thus: The playing is infectiously uninhibited and technically immaculate - a programme of unqualified pleasure. Last year they recorded an album of seventeenth-century German music for solo counter-tenor and strings with Michael Chance, which was released to coincide with their concert in the 2001 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music; and their most recent release is of Buxtehude Cantatas with Emma Kirkby, Suzie LeBlanc and Peter Harvey, which was recently lavishly praised on BBC Radio 3’s “CD Review”.
In October 2001, they took a fully staged production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo to Japan, with a cast of over forty people, with Mark Padmore in the title role and other roles taken by Dominique Visse, Susan Bickley, Suzie LeBlanc, Stephen Varcoe, Richard Wistreich and Julian Podger. This controversial production was set in the post-war Balkans and employed the entire cast, musicians, singers and dancers, all on stage and all as members of a village performing an annual ritual. It was a huge success and they are planning further performances in the UK, around the rest of Europe and in Brazil in the coming years. They also hope to record the performance for television. The coming years will see tours of Brazil, Japan, France, Australia, Ireland and Germany.
In February 2004 the Purcell Quartet celebrated twenty years music making at the Wigmore Hall, with friends and collaborators.