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The Artistry of Emma Kirkby
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Gloria [16.09] (1); Salve Regina [10.35] (2); O Qualis de Coelo Sonus [11.33] (2); Coelestis dum spirat aura [11.47] (2); – Laudati pueri [21.40] (2)
Philipp Friedrich BÖDDECKER (1607-1783)
Natus est Jesus [4.54] (3)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Öffne dich mein ganzes Herze (from the cantata Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61) [3.20] (3); Bereite dir, Jesu, noch itzo die Bahn (from the cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147a) [4.11] (3)
Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760)
Cantata ‘Ach Gott unde Herr’ [17.51] (4)
Francois COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Première Leçon de Tenèbres pour le Mercredi Saint [15.29] (5); Troisième Leçon de Tenèbres pour le Mercredi Saint [11.08] (6)
Michel DE LALANDE (1657-1726)
Troisième Leçon de Tenèbres pour le Mercredi Saint [16.05] (5)
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660-1725)
Non so qual piu m’ingombra [13.45] (7); O di Betlemme, altera poverta venturosa [16.38] (7)
Attilio Malachia ARIOSTI (1666-1729)
Pur alfin gentil Viola [10.50] (8)
Cataldo AMODEI (1649-1693)
Su l’ore che l’aurora [11.51] (9); Va, che l’hai fatto a me [8.39] (9); Lieve al pie, Grave al passo [9.32] (9)
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
O sweet woods [6.27] (10); I saw my lady weepe [5.36] (10); Daphne was not so chaste [2.09] (10); Farewell too faire[3.12] (10); Time’s eldest sonne [3.44] (10); Shall I strive with words to move? [3.02] (11)
John DANYEL (1564-1626)
Dost thou withdraw thy grace? [1.33] (11)
Robert JOHNSON (1583-1633)
Full Fathom Five [1.49] (11)
Sigismondo D’INDIA (1582-1629)
Da l’onde del mio pianto [3.20] (11)
Georg SCHIMELLPFENNIG (1582-1637)
Dolce tempo passato
[5.02] (11)
Heinrich SCHUTZ (1585-1672)
Eile mich, Gott, zu erretten
[3.04] (11)
Etienne MOULINIE (1600-1669)
Paisible et tenebreuse nuit [2.52] (11)
Jean-Baptiste BOESSET (1614-1685)
Que Philis a l’esprit leger [1.37] (11)
Henry LAWES (1596-1662)
Anacreon’s Ode, call’d the Lute [2.08] (12); Anacreon’s Ode, call’d the Lute [1.48] (12); At dead low ebb of night [3.07] (12)
John BLOW (1649-1708)
Sappho to the Goddess of Love [6.11] (12)
John WILSON (1595-1674)
Diffugere nives [3.33] (12)
Albonso II FERRABOSCO (1578-1628)
So beautie on the waters stood [1.29] (12)
Henry LAWES (1596-1662)
Orpheus Hymn to God [2.24] (12)
Maurice GREENE (1696-1755)
Orpheus with his lute [3.31] (12)
John WELDON (1596-1662)
O Stop ye waves [2.24] (12)
Emma Kirkby (soprano); Agnes Mellon (soprano) (6); Charles Medlam (bass viol) (5, 6); Terence Charlston (organ) (5, 6); Thomas Georgi (viola d’amore) (8); Lucas Harris (archlute) (8); Jakob Lindberg (theorbo/lute) (9); Jakob Lindberg (lute) (11); Anthony Rooley (lute) (10); Anthony Rooley (theorbo-lute) (12); Lars Ulrik Mortensen (harpsichord) (9); Mime Yamahiro Brinkmann (cello) (8); Royal Academy of Music Baroque Orchestra (1); London Baroque (2, 3, 7); Theatre of Early Music (4); Laurence Cummings (conductor) (1); Charles Medlam (director) (2, 3, 7)
rec. (1) – May 2001, Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London; (2) – September 1999, St. Martin’s, East Woodhay, Hampshire; (3) – March 2000, St. Martin’s, East Woodhay, Hampshire; (4) – February 2006, Chapelle de Notre Dame de Bon Secours, Montreal, Canada; (5, 6) – September 2005, St. Martin’s, East Woodhay, Hampshire; (7) – March 2000, St. Martin’s, East Woodhay, Hampshire; (8) – August 2007, Länna Church, Sweden; (9) – November 2002, Länna Church, Sweden; (10) – April 2004, Länna Church, Sweden; (11) – November 2005, Länna Church, Sweden; (12) – July 2001,  St. Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York
BIS BIS-CD-1734/35 [4 CDs: 73.19 + 74.30 + 72.36 + 72.07]


Experience Classicsonline

This set seems to have been assembled to celebrate Emma Kirkby’s 60th birthday, though you have to read through the CD liner-notes to discover this fact. The set consists of selections from the CDs that she has made for BIS since she started releasing records with the company in 2000. The result is an attractive set which covers quite a range of ground and gives a clear picture of Dame Emma’s current artistry and voice.

It may seem impolite to harp upon the soprano’s age, but the remarkable condition of her voice means that when you first play these discs you rather do a double take. It is not many sopranos of Dame Emma’s vintage who have preserved so much of their vocal prime. Not that everything is perfect, there is now a tendency to shade off high notes and the upper register generally lacks the freedom which it once had. The vocal tone is still clear, pure, cool and limpid but with hints that the flexibility is rather harder won than it used to be. All this must be balanced by a sense of warmth and character which is relatively new in the voice. As ever when singers age, you have to balance the reduction in vocal resources with the greater gains in depth, artistry and character.

The first disc is entirely devoted to Handel, starting with the recording of Handel’s Gloria which she made with the Royal Academy of Music Baroque Orchestra. This was the work’s first recording after having been re-attributed to Handel. Handel’s writing hints at Vivaldi and other baroque contemporaries. Kirkby’s account of the solo line is accomplished, beautiful but rather cool.

What she can do is indicated in the remaining tracks of the disc where she performs Handel Italian solo sacred music with Charles Medlam and London  Baroque. On these tracks she adds a new warmth and depth to her technical ability. This makes the antiphon Salve Regina a moving little gem. This piece was written in Rome in 1707 as were the following two motets, O Qualis de Coelo Sonus (probably for Whitsun) and Coelestis dum spirat aura (for the feast of St. Anthony of Padua). Kirkby’s tones are not naturally Italianate, instead she brings intelligence, technical ability and a feeling of authority to this repertoire. This is especially seen in Laudate Pueri, Handel’s version in F major from 1706 (his earliest surviving manuscript); here Kirkby gives us some beautifully clear, clean runs and sing the slower movements with superb poise.

For the second disc we discover on of the set’s weaknesses. Though the liner notes provide excellent background information on Kirkby and we do get full texts and translations, but there are no notes about the composers. This is something of a problem on a disc which includes music by Böddecker and Graupner!

Böddecker was a composer and organist from a family of musicians; born in Alsace he went on to work at the court in Darmstadt before working in as organist in Frankfurt and at Strasbourg Cathedral. His  motet, Natus est Jesus is charming, with its mixture of German and Latin texts. As with other South German composers there are Italianate hints in the music.

The two Bach cantata arias are near ideal, with only hints of strain at the top marring the sheer perfection. Kirkby is complemented by some fine solo violin playing. I couldn’t help wishing that we’d been able to hear the cantatas complete.

Christoph Graupner was born in Saxony and was taught at the Thomasschule in Leipzig. He worked at the Hamburg Opera under Keiser before moving to the court at Darmstadt. He seems to have composed nearly 1500 church cantatas. Ach Gott und Herr is for the 3rd Sunday after Trinity. Graupner opens the cantata with the solo voice singing the chorale melody, beautifully decorated by instrumental obbligato. In both the arias, Graupner complements the voice with some lovely inventive instrumental textures. This is the recording’s first appearance on disc.

Finally on the second disc we have Couperin’s 1st and 3rd Leçon de Tenèbre pour Mercredi Saint and De Lalande’s 3rd Leçon de Tenèbre pour Mercredi Saint. Kirkby’s response to this music is quite dramatic, passionate and declamatory, rather than the rather cool perfection of her recordings of this repertoire from the 1970s. She is joined by Agnes Mellon for Couperin’s 3rd Leçon. Whilst there was much to enjoy in these recordings of two mature artists in great music, I found them slightly disappointing counting the losses as well as the gains.

Disc 3 opens with a pair of cantatas by Alessandro Scarlatti. As with much of Scarlatti’s repertoire apart from the harpsichord sonatas, his music seems to live under the shadow of his father. These two are lovely nonetheless. Non so qual piu m’infomra is a charming, rather low-key pastoral cantata but it’s subject is actually sacred and the cantata celebrates the birth of the Messiah, as does O di Betlemme, altera poverta venturosa. The second cantata in particular benefits from some fine instrumental playing from London Baroque and the aria L’autor d’oni mio bene (The author of all my joys) is especially lovely.

Ariosti was an Italian composer who may have been a priest and served in Bologna until he eventually entered the service of the Duke of Mantua before spending time in Berlin, Vienna and England. His cantata Pur alfin gentil viola comes from a manuscript from Berlin, in it the poet compares the gentle beauty of the viola with the arrogant beauty of the rose. Kirkby is ably accompanied here by a delightful viola d’amore solo from Thomas Georgi.

Finally on disc 3 a group of cantatas by the Sicilian-born, Neapolitan-trained Cataldo Amodei. They are all highly characterful pieces and Kirkby brings out the variety in them, her delight in the writing radiant in her voice.

For the final disc we move to lute songs. In addition to the delight of hearing Kirkby singing in her pure, clear English, I feel that this style of song suits her voice best. She opens with a group of Dowland songs accompanied by her long term partner Anthony Rooley. They are all generally sad, beautifully and poignantly sung. But I did wonder if the speeds were a little too slow, a little too self-indulgent.

Next follows a group of songs accompanied by Jakob Lindberg, with Dowland being followed by Danyel and Johnson. This calm melancholy of this latter’s Full fathom five they father lies is beautifully caught by Kirkby and Lindberg. Kirkby’s tones in Sigismondo D’India’s Dal l’ondel del mio piano are rather too English for my taste, but there is not doubting the artistry and she is technically brilliant. Schütz’s Eile mich, Gott, su erretten is fascinatingly declamatory with echoes of Monteverdi.

The set ends with a fascinating group of songs recorded by Kirkby and Rooley at York Early Music Centre. Kirkby, a former Oxford Classics scholar, was invited to become President of the Classical Association. In lieu of an inaugural lecture she sang and the recital, all songs to classical texts or on classical themes, made its way to disc. Here we hear Henry Lawes setting Anacreon in the original Greek, along with an English’d version as well and John Wilson sets one of Horace’s odes. Lawes Tale out of Anacreon (At Dead low ebb of night) is inspired by the classics as is the cantata to Sapho by John Blow. Both are vividly performed by Kirkby and the Blow is fascinatingly free in form, with some fine flurries of technical brilliance.

This box is excellent value as you get 4 well filled CDs for the price of 2 (nearly 5 hours of music). The booklet includes articles about Kirkby and full texts and translations

This is a fine survey of Kirkby’s late career, giving plenty of idea of her musicianship and the brilliance of her technique. Whilst it must be admitted that her voice does not quite have the free and evenness it used to have, this is compensated for by warmth and keen intelligence. At her best on these discs she manages to balance the cool perfection of her younger self with a darker more compelling older version. Essential listening for all lovers of vocal music. 

Robert Hugill 



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