In 1790, Haydn contributed accompaniments to some of
the Scots songs published by William Napier. This volume was successful
enough to be followed by a second one, in which all the accompaniments
were supplied by Haydn, one hundred songs in all. This recital opens
with a selection of seven songs from this collection. These are some
of the lesser known examples of Haydn's art and the problems in their
performance are evident from the opening of the first item. The text
is by Robert Burns and uses the lowland Scots dialect (Lallans) extensively.
Catherine Bott sings the songs with an attempt at a suitable accent.
But this rather has a tendency to come and go. English words tend to
be sung in the English manner and I suspect that this falsifies some
of the rhyming schemes. More seriously, singing in dialect seems to
inhibit Miss Bott's attention to the text. Compared to her diction and
attention to detail in the other English items on this disc, the Scots
songs are disappointing. In such strophic, folk-like songs, the text
is of paramount importance.
Haydn's arrangements were designed for amateurs to
play and in the introduction to the published volume, players were encouraged
to vary the songs and intersperse the verses with instrumental movements.
Here the performers vary the accompaniments with different instrumentations
and some of the songs are performed entirely in instrumental versions.
This seems a mistake as I rather missed the text. Haydn's arrangements
are charming but his accompaniments seem limited, as if he was constrained
by the parameter of the commission. I wished that the original instructions
had been taken up and the final strophe repeated instrumentally, as
Haydn wrote no closing paragraphs and the songs do have a tendency to
end rather suddenly. The performers give the music the style that it
needs and never try to endow it with a consequence that it does not
have. The results are entirely charming, and very redolent of the 18th
century parlour for which the songs were intended.
The English Canzonettas, to texts by his friend Mrs
Anne Hunter, were again written for amateurs. But this time, Haydn does
not seem to have felt so constrained and the piano accompaniments to
these strophic songs are full of imaginative touches, well taken by
Melvyn Tam on the FortePiano. Catherine Bott seems more comfortable
with the texts here and her diction and pointing of the text is exemplary,
I only wish we had more of these delightful songs. Two of them are performed
from editions of 1801 (by Corri, a pupil of Porpora). In this edition
Corri has added 'correct' breathing and phrasing as exemplars to singers.
And it seems that Haydn was in the habit of singing the songs himself,
to his own accompaniment at his friends' homes. Now that must have been
This recital has been carefully put together as the
final two items, by far the strongest pieces, are performed in early
English editions. The recitative and aria from 'The Creation' is performed
in an edition from 1801 by Muzio Clementi, which featured an "improved
translation" which is subtly different from the one we use today. Melvyn
Tan proves a skilful accompanist, drawing colours out of the Fortepiano.
Catherine Bott's plangent tones are well matched to the instrument.
The final item on the disc is the cantata, 'Arianna
a Naxos', performed in an early English edition from 1791. This is a
much recorded piece and listeners can choose from performances by such
luminaries as Janet Baker, Cecilia Bartoli (with András Schiff
accompanying) and Anne Sofie von Otter (with Melvyn Tan again, on Fortepiano).
Anne Sofie von Otter and Melvyn Tan take nearly the same time as Catherine
Bott on this record. But von Otter sings with a greater sense of line
and care over its shapeliness. Von Otter's attention to detail is admirable
and Arianna's bewildering mixture of emotions is vividly characterised
with a wide variety of tone. Catherine Bott's plangent performance is
a little more generalised and does not use a such wide variety of tone
colour. But within its own parameters, her performance is lovely and
it is perhaps unfair to compare the young Catherine Bott recorded in
1985 with recent recordings of mature artists such as von Otter and
Bartoli. Bartoli and Schiff take three minutes longer and their performance
is far more romantic then either von Otter and Tan or Bott and Tan.
That said, Schiff's accompaniment is positively luminous and Bartoli's
vivid performance has the inestimable advantage that she sings in her
own language. But 'Arianna' is the only Hadyn on Bartoli's disc.
Generally, on the alternative discs 'Arianna a Naxos'
is available only in the context of a mixed recital. (Von Otter does
sing some of the Haydn Canzonettas, but here her attention to artistic
detail is almost too much for the songs and I far prefer Catherine Bott's
charming simplicity.) On this recording Bott and Tan have prefixed 'Arianna'
by a fascinating group of items from Haydn's London period. Haydn himself
accompanied the castrato Pacchierotti in a performance of ‘Arianna’
in London in 1791. So, whilst Bott’s ‘Arianna a Naxos’ might not be
the first choice for the library, taken as a whole this recital is well
A great deal of research and scholarship has gone into
this recording, but it wears its scholarship lightly. The recital is
structured so that one could imagine oneself at an 18th century
London salon; simpler items performed, perhaps, by local luminaries
acting as a preliminary to the cantata featuring the great castrato.
Perhaps this is being too fantastical, but Catherine Bott, Melvyn Tan
and the other instrumentalists are to be commended for putting together
a charming recital which keeps the feel of performance in the parlour