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Amy Marcy Cheney BEACH (1867-1944)
'Chanson D'Amour '

Ecstasy, Op.19 No 2
Chanson d'amour, (1898)
A Mirage Op.100 No 1
Stella Viatoris, Op.100 No 2
Rendezvous, (1928)
Three Browning Songs, Op 44
Romance for Violin and Piano, (1898)
Three Shakespeare songs, Op. 37
Piano Trio in A minor, Op.150 (1938)
Nahe des Geliebten, Op.35 No 3
Ich sagte nicht, Op.51 No 1
Wir drei, Op.51 No 2.
Je demande a l'oiseau, Op.51 No 4.
Canzonetta, Op.48 No 4.
Elle et moi, Op.21 No 3.
Emma Kirkby (sop)
The Romantic Chamber Group of London.
Recorded at St Martin's Church, East Woodhey, Hampshire, England. Nov. 2000 Full price.
BIS-CD-2145 [65.45]

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 that period.

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

 


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