The songs of Haydn are not that frequently heard, whether in recital or on record. There are however some attractive offerings, the best being Elly Ameling’s Philips set from around 1980, recently reissued by Brilliant Classics on three super budget discs (see review
). This brand new recording by the young Czech soprano Martina Janková isn’t as comprehensive as Ameling’s set but it gives a good conspectus of Haydn’s the song composer. For many readers, who are not die-hard Haydn freaks, this may be more than enough. We get nine out of the fifteen English songs and with the exception of the delightful Sailor’s Song
, so memorably recorded by Elisabeth Schumann all those years ago, all the best of them are included. The six songs to German texts are also well chosen. As a substantial bonus we get nine of the Scottish and Welsh songs, set for voice, violin, cello and piano. There are enormous quantities of these; Haydn arranged nearly 400 between 1791 and 1805, though some of the arrangements may have been done by others.
Martina Janková is an accomplished singer with beautiful voice, lyrical and warm in tone and a slightly fluttery timbre - nothing disturbing. It’s more a stamp of personality than a technical flaw. She is off to a good start with The Mermaid’s Song
and is even better in the song that has given this collection its title: Recollection.
What is noticeable is that Ms Janková generally chooses slightly slower tempos than Elly Ameling. After a few songs I got a feeling of generalisation in the performances. There is a certain sameness in tone and reading. The fault may lie as much with Haydn as with the singer. In the concluding English song The Spirit’s Song
, she adjusts perceptibly to the prevailing mood. The tone becomes more concentrated, bleaker.
But the real change comes in the first of the German songs. Eine sehr gewöhnliche Geschichte
is one of Haydn’s best songs and here Ms Janková characterises most skilfully and colours the voice expressively. Just listen to the laughter in the last line Ei, Ei! Wie
This prevails throughout the disc. Where the English songs were merely well-sung and pretty the German songs are more substantial - which they also are musically and textually. They seem to mean more to her. Her singing is more assured and her nuances are more spontaneous. She also shows her dramatic vein in Die zu späte Ankunft,
where for once she is faster than Ameling. But Liebeslied
is daringly slow, and it is really to her credit that she manages to keep the listener’s interest until the end.
The Scottish and Welsh songs are all unpretentious and simple but each of them, mostly very brief is a melodious gem and Haydn - or whoever arranged them - doesn’t overload them. The piano trio is discreet and supportive. Special praise should go to Gérard Wyss, whose playing throughout is sensitive and alert.
Martina Janková already has an impressive discography and I hope to hear more from her in the future. Elly Ameling’s comprehensive set will remain the reference version for Haydn’s songs but Martina Janková is a fine alternative and complement.