Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Songs and Cantatas
The Wanderer, Hob. XXVIa:32 [3:53]; Piercing Eyes, Hob. XXVIa:35
[1:37]; The Spirit’s Song, Hob. XXV1a:41 [4:35]; Fidelity, Hob.
XXVIa:30 [3:15]; O Tuneful Voice, Hob. XXVIa:42 [4:42]; Arianna
a Naxos, cantata, Hob.XXVIb/2 (1789) [13:54]; A Pastoral Song, Hob,
XXVIa:27 [3:16]; Recollection, Hob. XXVIa:26 [5:13]; The Battle
of the Nile, HobXXV1b:4 (1800) [10:38]; She Never Told Her Love,
Hob. XXVIa:34 [3:15]; The Lady’s Looking-Glass, Hob.31c:17 [2:19]
Emma Kirkby (soprano)
Marcia Hadjimarkos (fortepiano)
rec. Salle Charratmuse, Charrat, Switzerland, January 2009. DDD.
Texts included, but no translation of Arianna a Naxos.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94204 [56:42]
I must confess to finding the repertoire here less enticing
than on two recent BIS recordings featuring Emma Kirkby which
have recently come my way: The Queen’s Music – Italian Duets
and Trios (BIS-CD-1715) and music by Dowland and Purcell,
Orpheus in England (BIS-CD-1725). That’s my only reservation,
however, apart from the less than ideal acoustic on this Brilliant
Classics CD – and some sloppy proof-reading which has resulted
in Emma Kirkby’s name appearing as ‘Emma Kirky’ on the CD label.
Offset those small blemishes against the ridiculously low asking
price for such talented performances, however, and the purchase
of this new recording becomes essential for all Kirkby fans,
unless they are resolutely allergic to Haydn’s art-songs.
Let me get that personal reaction to the words of the songs
out of the way first. I’m afraid that I’m no great lover of
eighteenth-century poetry in any form and I find the poems of
Anne Hunter, whom Haydn met during his time in England, particularly
twee. The English text of The Creation is odd and stilted,
but the fact that its sources are the Bible and Milton ultimately
saves it and Emma Kirkby participates in Christopher Hogwood’s
recording of that work on Decca Oiseau-Lyre.
It’s a shame, therefore, that the words on this new recording
are so clearly enunciated and so well captured by the recording,
something which otherwise I’d hail as a virtue. Haydn’s music
compensates, though I’d be hard put to find evidence of the
claim in the booklet that the music anticipates Schubert’s romantic
manner. Just don’t ask me to define ‘romanticism’ in poetry
or music: it means so many different things that A O Lovejoy
long ago (1924) delivered a famous lecture On The Discrimination
of Romanticisms (plural).
Arianna a Naxos is another matter. Written for Lord Nelson’s
mistress, Emma Hamilton, and sung by her with, reportedly, a
loud voice, it deserves an honourable place in the long line
of musical settings of Ariadne’s lament at being abandoned by
Theseus; it’s surprising that it has not been recorded more
often. We are not told of the quality of Lady Hamilton’s voice,
merely its volume, but it’s most unlikely to have been anywhere
in the same league as Emma Kirkby’s on this recording. The CD
is worth its modest price for this item alone.
It’s followed by the best known of these songs, ‘My mother bids
me bind my hair’. Once again the singing and the quality of
Haydn’s seemingly artless setting – the art that conceals art
– are enough to overcome my dislike of this kind of ‘pastoral’.
The 18th Century loved to include unnecessary adjectives:
the stone on which the speaker sits has to be ‘mossy’, for no
particular reason, but when Wordsworth tells us that Lucy was
like ‘a violet ‘neath a mossy stone’, there is a reason for
the epithet – the moss on the stone helps make the violet ‘half
hidden from the eye’.
Cornelia Knight’s words for The Battle of the Nile, too,
sometimes set the teeth on edge:
When, lo! From ocean’s trophied mansion come
The Sons of Neptune to pronounce their doom.
There’s that unnecessary adjective ‘trophied’, again. Thankfully,
Haydn set only a selection. Emma Hamilton was again the chanteuse,
creating ‘a grand effect’, according to the author’s memoirs.
In this, the second-longest item on the CD, Haydn’s setting
is again attractive and Emma Kirkby’s declamatory manner well
suited to it. The keyboard part is much more than an accompaniment
here and the quality of Marcia Hadjimarkos’s playing and her
fortepiano, a copy of a late 18th-century Walter
instrument, do it justice.
With the penultimate work, ‘She never told her love’, we are
on safer poetic territory with Shakespeare; Haydn’s setting
does the words full justice. So, too, does the performance.
The Lady’s Looking Glass concludes the programme, again
with stylish music and performances.
As for that unhelpful acoustic which I mentioned, the ear never
fully adjusts, though it becomes less of a problem as the programme
progresses. I’ve seen it referred to elsewhere as disarmingly
intimate, which I think understates the problem.
I’m particularly pleased to see all the texts included in the
booklet – by no means a given in this price-range – though it’s
a shame that no translation was provided for the Italian text
of the longest work here, the cantata Arianna a Naxos.
Otherwise the notes are short but informative.
For all my reservations, I know that this recording will find
many friends. Even if, like me, you find much of the poetry
too twee, Haydn’s music and the performances amply compensate.
Just don’t forget those two other recent recordings which Emma
Kirkby has made for BIS.