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Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Amy BEACH (1867-1944)
Songs: The Rainy Day, 1880; Ariette, 1886; When Far Away from Home, 1889; Empress of the Night, 1891; Le Secret, 1891; Ecstasy, 1892; Within My Heart, 1895; Sleep Little Darling, 1894 ; Nacht, 1895; Forgotten, 1894; Dearie, 1899; Far Awa', 1899; Three Robert Browning Songs: The Year's at the Spring, 1900; Ah, Love but a day, 1900; I Send My Heart Up To Thee, 1900; Come, ah Come, 1902; Canzonetta, 1902; Ich Liebe Dich, 1903; Wir Drei, 1903; June, 1903; Je Demande, 1903; Go Not Too Far, 1904; Shana Van, 1904; Baby, 1908; Hush, Baby Dear, 1908; A Prelude, 1910; O Sweet Content, 1910; Ein Altes Gebet, 1914; Der Totenkranz, 1914; The Candy Lion, 1914; A Thanksgiving Fable, 1914; In the Twilight, 1921; The Host, 1925; May Flowers, 1932; I Sought the Lord, 1937; Though I Take the Wings of Morning, 1941.
Katherine Kelton (mezzo-soprano)
Catherine Bringerud (piano)
Recorded at The Lodge in Indianapolis, Indiana, June 1999
NAXOS 8.559191 [77.39]

 

Amy Beach left behind 117 songs spanning her entire compositional life. They faithfully mirror the interests she espoused in Scottish folk music as much as the more au currant enthusiasm for, say, Richard Strauss that can be found equally in her copious piano music. This is especially true in the case of Wolf, whose presence is strongly audible in a number of these songs. She selected from a diverse number of poetic sources, which took in Browning, Balladry and Dr Beach and clothed them in suitable raiment though not, it’s true, always of the utmost seriousness (she also set her own poems but Within thy Heart isn’t especially distinctive either as poem or setting).

The recital is in pretty much chronological order – some 1894 and 1895 settings are reversed in the ordering but that’s in the interests of good programming and of no account when it comes to Beach’s compositional growth. The youthful setting of The Rainy Day actually quotes from the Pathetique Sonata and shows the precocious thirteen year old unable to grasp Longfellow but quite able to insinuate some brisk pianism into her setting. Her Shelley setting, Ariette, written when she was nineteen shows its parlour origins clearly enough. Ecstasy was a big hit – it’s fairly conventional structurally but has a real lyric gift and one can see why it made so big an impression. Beach certainly mined some French influences but these were strictly non impressionistic in Le Secret – more Massenet really. Harriet Elizabeth Prescott Spofford certainly made full use of her complement of Christian names and her poem Sleep, Little Darling is vaguely Rossetti-like but Beach’s setting is rather more sentimental and domestic than Vaughan Williams would have made it.

She is strong where she takes from Wolf and Strauss – in Nacht, say – and enjoyable mining the Gaelic or Scottish. Her Browning settings are important, and she insinuates the gondolier rhythms (as Hahn was to do) in Send my heart up to thee! with its Venetian setting. Ich sagte nicht is all Strauss but there are hints of a more cosmopolitan style in the vocal writing in Wir drei. Beach did her share of dedications and writing for journals; all too dutiful, these settings don’t cover any ground at all and A Prelude is pretty much that – a piano prelude with vocal part stuck on top. Her settings for the American-domiciled German contralto Ernestine Schumann-Heink are reverent and simple. Rather more impressive is a setting such as the powerfully descriptive In the Twilight to words by Longfellow once again – this 1921 setting does sound a cousin of Vaughan Williams. Her last works are bathed in affectionate gentility, though even here there are times when she is on compositional autopilot.

Performances are idiomatic and full of proselytising zeal. Emma Kirkby once sang a selection of Beach songs in an unfortunate piece of miscasting on disc. These are in a different league, from the soft Scottish brogue (thankfully not overdone) to the Franco-German songs; Kelton sometimes struggles towards the top of her tessitura (Canzonetta) and doesn’t give some consonants their full value but much of this is pioneer work and she and Catherine Bringerud had them on tape in two days (five years ago), which speaks of real familiarity.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Christopher Howell

 


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