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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Amy BEACH (1867-1944)
Songs: The Rainy Day (1880), Ariette op.1/4 (1886), When far from her op.2/2 (1889), Empress of Night op.2/3 (1891), Le Secret op.14/2 (1891), Ecstasy op.19/2 (1892), Within thy Heart op.29/1 (1895), Sleep, Little Darling op.29/3 (1894), Nacht op.35/1 (1895), Forgotten op.41/3 (1894), Dearie op.43/1 (1899), Far Awa’ op.43/4 (1899), The Year’s at the Spring op.44/1 (1900), Ah, Love, but a day! op.44/2 (1900), I send my heart up to thee! op.44/3 (1900), Come, ah Come op.48/1 (1902), Canzonetta op.48/4 (1902), Ich sagte nicht op.51/1 (1903), Wir drei op.51/2 (1903), Juni op.51/3 (1903), Je demande à l’oiseau op.51/4 (1903), Go not too Far op.56/2 (1904), Shena Van op.56/4 (1904), Baby op.69/1 (1908), Hush, Baby Dear op.69/2 (1908), A Prelude op.71/1 (1910), O Sweet Content op.71/2 (1910), Ein altes Gebet op.72/1 (1914), Der Totenkranz op.73/2 (1914), The Candy Lion op.75/1 (1914), A Thanksgiving Fable op.75/2 (1914), In the Twilight op.85 (1921), The Host op.117/2 (1925), May Flowers op.137 (1932), I sought the Lord op.142 (1937), Though I take the wings of morning op.152 (1941)
Katherine Kelton (mezzo-soprano), Catherine Bringerud (piano)
Recorded 11th-12th June 1999 at The Lodge in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
NAXOS 8.559191 [77:39]

 

Amy Beach’s "Gaelic" Symphony and Piano Concerto aroused considerable interest (also on Naxos); now we have almost a third of her 117 songs. These cover a period of some 60 years and are presented chronologically.

If the earliest examples suggest the drawing-room lyrics of Amy Woodforde-Finden and her ilk, by the 1890s she was producing works of a quality that Parry would not have been ashamed to include among his "English Lyrics". The two examples from her op.29 perhaps illustrate all that is best in the writing. The vocal line is natural and not always predictable, and it must be lovely to sing with its melismatic soarings, supported by a satisfyingly full textured piano part which must also be a joy to play. Having reached this level I would say that she maintained it for about a decade – all the songs from here through to the op.51 settings offer glorious, escapist listening. A number of poems, by the way, are by her husband and two are by herself. If unoriginal, they are well suited for musical setting. Given that Beach invariably finds attractive melodic motifs and appears to be carried by genuine inspiration the fame of these songs in her own day is easy to understand, their subsequent neglect less so.

Or is it? Did she perhaps gush a little too easily? Mention of Parry reminds us that the English composer had, at least fitfully, an individual and recognizable voice all of his own, something which enabled him to go beyond gushing and to pare down his art at times to something all the more personal for its simplicity. (Or, to remain in America, I find a more personal, and "American", voice in MacDowell). At least on this hearing, I don’t quite find a personal voice in Beach. Did she herself become suspicious of her ability to gush? The later songs seem to aim at more simplicity, but unfortunately this only reveals that the actual content under the gorgeous plumes amounts to nothing very much. The musical interest falls off in the last part of the record, and perhaps her literary taste with it – George MacDonald’s "Baby" is a particularly nauseating poem.

However, the core of the programme – about half of it – was something of a revelation and perhaps it was right that we should hear the whole story. But now, how about some more of the songs from that inspired middle period?

Katherine Kelton has made a special study of Beach’s songs and provides the succinct booklet notes. She has a warm voice throughout her range, if without any special variety of timbre, and is obviously a dedicated interpreter. But I have to point out that her English pronunciation is a little idiosyncratic, its chief characteristics being the pronunciation (consistently) of "O" as in "soar", "I" as in "boy", producing such lines as "Oanly to gloyde" (= "Only to glide"). This is NOT an issue of English versus American pronunciation – if anything she sounds rural Cornish – for these are not vowel-sounds I have noted in other American singers. However, the voice is warm and attractive, it soars up in the lyrical moments as it should and in a way I grew quite fond of these oddities. All the same, I note with alarm that she has taught in, among other places, the Hochschule für Musik of Hanover and I hope her duties did not include perfecting her students’ English pronunciation. The pianist is excellent.

For the revelation of some fine repertoire, warmly sung, the disc is strongly recommended. Texts are included, with translations of the German and French poems.

Christopher Howell



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