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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
The Spirit’s Song

Piercing Eyes (XXVIa,35) [02:09]
She never told her love (H XXVIa,34) [03:40]
Sleepy Body (Scottish air)**/*** (H XXXIa,44) [02:36]
Pleasing Pain (H XXVIa,29) [03:04]
Sailor’s Song (H XXVIa,31) [02:53]
The Spirit’s Song (H XXVIa,41) [05:57]
Andante con variazioni in f minor (H XVII,6) [17:20]
By the stream so cool and clear (Scottish air)**/*** (H XXXIa,19) [02:23]
The Mermaid’s Song (XXVIa,25) [03:39]
Fidelity (H XXVIa,30) [04:32]
Pentland Hills (Scottish air)**/*** (H XXXIa,33) [03:57]
Lines from the Battle of the Nile, cantata (H XVIb,4) [12:52]
All through the night (Welsh air)*/**/*** (H deest) [04:05]
Jean Danton, soprano; D’Anna Fortunato, mezzo-soprano*; Julia McKenzie, violin**; Timothy Merton, cello***; Igor Kipnis, fortepiano [John Broadwood, 1796 and 1823]
Recorded at the Sonic Temple, Roslindale, MA and in the Romanesque Gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA. DDD
NEWPORT CLASSIC NPD 85664 [69:04]



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Franz Joseph Haydn is hardly known for his songs with keyboard accompaniment. They are a relatively small part of his musical output. In the 1780s Haydn composed two collections on German texts. These were published in 1781 and 1784 respectively. The texts of these songs are generally considered rather poor, and one can imagine that they provided little inspiration for Haydn to return to the genre.

At the end of 1790 Haydn went to London at the invitation of Johann Peter Salomon. His arrival just after the turn of the year attracted much attention. The famous music writer Charles Burney published a poem in his honour: 'Verses on the arrival of Haydn in England'. Quickly Haydn rose to the status of a celebrity who moved in the best circles. In particular he had great success with his symphonies.

It was in England that he began composing songs again. In 1794 and 1795 two collections of 'English Canzonettas' were published, predominantly settings of poems by Haydn's friend Mrs. Anne Hunter, the wife of an eminent London surgeon. They were meant to be sung and accompanied on the keyboard at sight by competent amateurs. Haydn himself enjoyed singing them to his own accompaniment in the homes of friends.

Although these songs were technically not too demanding, they were different from the German songs of the 1780s. In those the right hand of the keyboard part follows the vocal line, but in the English canzonettas the keyboard accompaniment becomes more and more independent of the vocal part.

Most songs are strophic, but in the second collection there are some through-composed examples. One of them is 'She never told her love', which also contains dynamic signs.

And in the second collection the keyboard accompaniment becomes fuller, probably inspired by the possibilities of the pianoforte with English action, which was quite different from the Viennese instruments Haydn knew.

Haydn also made a number of arrangements of Scottish and Welsh songs. The first set of a hundred was composed in 1791 and published the following year to save the publisher Napier from bankruptcy. In 1794 a second set followed. Haydn was given the texts and melodies and provided them with an accompaniment of violin and basso continuo. Apparently the composition of these arrangements gave Haydn great pleasure, because later he made more than 200 similar accompaniments - this time for keyboard, violin and cello. These were published by the Scottish publishers George Thomson and William Whyte respectively, between 1800 and 1805.

In September 1800 the British admiral Lord Nelson came to Eisenstadt, accompanied by the British ambassador in Naples, Sir William Hamilton. The occasion was celebrated with a performance of Haydn's 'Nelson Mass'. At this time Haydn also wrote the cantata for voice and keyboard, 'Lines from the Battle of the Nile'. This was based on a poem by Cornelia Knight, who was in Lord Nelson's company. Haydn used only a selection of stanzas (hence 'Lines from' in its title) and changed their order. This piece has some similarity with the more famous cantata 'Arianna a Naxos'.

The performance of the songs on this disc is disappointing. Jean Danton uses a rather wide vibrato, which is not only historically unjustified, but also becomes very tiring after a while. The effect is aggravated by the lack of variety in her singing; it is all rather one-dimensional. If there is any expression, it is mainly achieved by dynamic means rather than by a careful treatment of the text.

The interpretation of the cantata ‘The Battle of the Nile’ isn't very dramatic; the recitatives, for instance, are too straightforward, without the necessary rhythmic freedom. Igor Kipnis doesn't make too much of the keyboard introduction either.

A large part of the repertoire on this disc was composed during Haydn's visits to England. Therefore a fortepiano with English action is the obvious choice to accompany the singer. On the whole Igor Kipnis does that rather well. I don't understand, though, why an instrument is chosen which dates from 1823. Considering the developments in piano building in the decades around 1800 that is difficult to justify. And for the folksong arrangements an instrument of 1796 was used. Why not in all items?

I am even less happy with the use of the same instrument for the Andante with Variations in f minor, which Haydn composed in 1793, between his first and second visit to London. It was probably written for Barbara von Ployer, who had been a student of Mozart’s. With this in the background as well as the character of the work it would have been better to use a fortepiano with Viennese action. Such an instrument is much better suited to play non-legato, a facility this work definitely requires.

As I have said before, the songs were meant to be performed in private homes. It is therefore unfortunate that the programme - with the exception of the folksong arrangements - has been recorded in a space with too much reverberation. As a result the intimacy this music needs is missing.

The tracklist leaves something to be desired too: not all Hoboken numbers are correct, nor is the title of the cantata.

The date of the recording isn't given either, but it must have been before 2002, when Igor Kipnis died. This was his last recording.

Some of the repertoire on this disc may be seldom recorded, like the 'Lines from the Battle of the Nile’. Some may never have recorded before (the three Scottish and the Welsh air). That is hardly reason enough to recommend this recording, considering its interpretative deficiencies.

Johan van Veen



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