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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Arias and Cantatas

Scena di Berenice Hob.XXIVa;10 [12.20]
Cantata composra per la Signora Banti in Antigono di Pietro Metastasio; Son pietosa, son bonina Hob.XXXIIb;1 [4.30]
Aria per La Circe, ossia L’isola incantata di Pasquale Anfossi e Gottlieb Naumann;
Arianna a Naxos Hob XXVIb; 2 (orchestral version) [17.59]
Cantata: Solo e pensoso Hob.XXIVb: 20 [7.17]
Aria da Il Canzoniere di Francesco Petrarca (Sonetto XXVIII): Miseri noi, misera patria! Hob.XXIVa: 7 [10.41]
Arleen Augér (soprano)
Handel and Haydn Society/Christopher Hogwood
rec. Methuen Memorial Hall, Massachusetts, October 1988
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 2519 [53.02]
 

A little over a year ago these recordings were reissued on the Avie label at mid-price and favourably reviewed by my colleague Jonathan Woolf (see review) He commented on the “consistently elevated standard of singing and performance” and with that statement, or indeed much else he said, I cannot disagree. Arleen Augér was all too soon taken from us, barely a few years after this disc was set down, to make her recordings all the more treasureable.
 
It would be too one-sided an affair though if I limited my comments solely to Augér’s performances. The Handel and Haydn Society was founded just six years after Haydn’s death and is one of the oldest historically informed performance groups still operating in the United States. In 1998 at the time of this recording Christopher Hogwood was, I believe, their Artistic Advisor. Sir Roger Norrington takes on that role from the 2006-7 season, but Hogwood remains in association as Conductor Laureate. From Hogwood’s period at the helm came several distinguished recordings, made for Decca’s L’Oiseau Lyre label, the demise of which (for the second time in its history) is still much to be mourned. At least now Universal Music’s Eloquence label is breathing new life into some of these recordings and I hope that more from the same source will follow.
 
Saying that the Handel and Haydn Society’s performances throughout are tasteful is true, but rather sells them short. There is no doubt that they benefit from Hogwood’s lengthy involvement with Haydn (his complete symphony cycle with the Academy of Ancient Music was under way) and throughout these performances he brings an unassuming stylistic intuition to bear. Care is taken with matters such as the exact scale and tonal quality of the orchestra’s playing without the whole thing sounding contrived. There is still a slightly improvisatory quality about these performances that is pleasing. Tempi on the whole are brisk, as one might expect from such a conductor and orchestra, though when needed they can brood deliciously on the textures of chords also.
 
So to Augér, and Jonathan Woolf was perfectly right to argue that she was far from being a soprano with a rich, creamy tone that one could feast one’s ears upon. Drama too was central to her being, as indeed any of her recordings testify in my experience. Here though Haydn’s five arias and cantatas afford the opportunity to bring drama well to the fore without neglecting any tonal allure. True, at times the relative maturity of the voice is noticeable, particularly when pushed wide at each end of the vocal range. The Scena di Berenice shows this in particular, but odd moments of effort are quickly passed. On first hearing they caught my attention, on subsequent hearings I became more aware of the fact that Augér builds them into her characterisation.
 
Son pietosa, son bonina allows for a rather more subtle, yet still dramatic, sensitivity to come from Augér. Much is hinted at rather than openly stated in her reading. Solo e pensoso is taken at a graceful tempo also that allows for clarity of string textures to provide an entirely natural sounding introduction prior to Augér’s entry. Her part for the most part rests in a richly produced stream of tone, though words are used to good effect too. Miseri noi, misera patria! alternates most delightfully between the qualities near declamation and tenderness in Augér’s voice. As ever though, the results are never anything other than musical and appealing.
 
Arianna a Naxos is in some respects the most challenging item on the programme, both musically and structurally. The work’s four distinct sections each require the capturing of a different mood: glorious and radiant with a fully alive voice at the opening, reflection, commanding forcefulness and desolation. Augér brings each to life with unerring dramatic timing. The orchestral version, I find, allows for greater definition to be found in the accompaniment than when the work is performed with a piano, if at times the orchestration itself sacrifices something in terms of the urgency to be found within the overall structure. Augér and Hogwood though make the most of the dramatic possibilities: a secure lower register helps Augér in this respect.
 
This budget-price Eloquence issue includes over three pages of informative notes written jointly by H.C. Robbins Landon and Christopher Hogwood. Avie’s mid-price issue includes notes, texts and translations; thus providing a slight advantage for those that are unfamiliar with this repertoire.  This is a recording that should be in the collection of every Haydn-lover: a worthy memorial to Augér’s art most sensitively supported by Hogwood et al.
 
Evan Dickerson
 
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