• Ellen Nolan
  • Olivia Chaney

In recent years the music of British baroque composer Henry Purcell, who churned out his work during a relatively short period in the late-17th century, has been remade by a handful of savvy modern singers who recognize its importance in the development of British folk music. Back when Purcell was active the lines between high and low culture weren’t so rigid (there was genuine overlap), so it makes sense that artists like Susanna Wallumrød and Tift Merritt, the latter working with the classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein, have delivered richly modern adaptations of some of Purcell’s compositions. To that list we should add the remarkable British singer Olivia Chaney, who operates as a folksinger but also possesses a real classical background.

Last month I wrote about Chaney when she made her Chicago debut at the Old Town School, where her set list included her gorgeous version of Purcell’s “There’s Not a Swain,” which appears on her debut album The Longest River (due out on Nonesuch on April 28). A different version of that song also turns up on the recent Purcell’s Revenge: Sweeter Than Roses? (Delphian), a fascinating effort by Scotland’s Concerto Caledonia, a group that spends much of its time recontextualizing early music. Chaney and fellow UK folksinger Jim Moray join the group, which boldly mixes period instruments with modern ones. In his liner notes David McGuinness notes how a standardized style of baroque music has developed internationally, but explains that in the original era there were scores of regional differences, which seems as good a reason as any to eschew concerns about purity. And as you can hear on today’s 12 O’Clock Track, “One Charming Night”—which features Moray’s distorted electric guitar seething past lines played on ancient instruments like an alto recorded, a nyckelharpa, and a bass viol—the project honors that sort of hybrid sound, which helps draw Purcell into the modern era. The vocals are handled again by Chaney, sounding as stunning as ever.