The title of this disc, and the equal type sizes given
to the names of Amy Beach and Emma Kirkby, might lead the non-musicologist
casually browsing the shelves into thinking that this disc was simply
another 'early music' recital by some recently discovered Tudor composer.
In reality over 15 minutes of music feature the Chamber Group alone,
whilst Amy Beach was born in New Hampshire in 1867. The booklet tells
us that Beach had a prodigious memory, perfect pitch, and a precocious
gift for music, performing, at age 18 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
However, marriage to a leading Boston physician intervened in her performing
career, and she devoted herself to composition until after the death
of her husband, in 1910, when she moved to Europe and resumed her virtuoso
career, mainly in the major music centres of Germany. The Great War
interrupted her resumed playing career and she returned to America and
composition. As well as her many songs, her most significant works are
the Mass in E flat, the Gaelic Symphony (1896), the Piano
Concerto (1899), her chamber opera, Cabildo (1932), and the Piano
Trio of 1938 featured on this disc.
From the foregoing, Amy Beach's musical style is best
described under the heading 'late romantic'. Musically simple, melodic
and undemanding with few flowerings of genius: undistinguished, just
like many works of hundreds of composers, and their compositions, from
I do not believe in putting singers into 'Fach Boxes',
so I wondered how Emma Kirkby, who has a considerable reputation in
early music and has produced many albums in the genre, would fare with
the demands of this music which above all needs vocal character to give
it credence. These songs need the expression that comes with vibrato
and colouring of the phrase, instead what we hear here is swelling on
the note and a monotony of poor diction. Even Kirkby's renowned purity
above the stave sounds worn in places. Just occasionally, as in tr12
(one of the Shakespearean Songs), one senses voice and music being on
the same wavelength. Elsewhere, for me, it's a mismatch that does neither
composer nor singer a service.
The contribution of the Romantic Chamber Group of London,
either alone or in various combinations supporting the singer, make
the most of the music. The recording is bright, clear, and well balanced.
The booklet biographies are brief and informative and the words are
given for each song, with translation into English where appropriate.
Robert J Farr