Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Arianna a Naxos, Hob XXVIb:2 [16:40]
Das Leben ist ein Traum, Hob XXVIa:21 [5:03]
Auch die sprödeste der Schönen, Hob XXVIa:18 [1:49]
Sailor’s song, Hob XXVIa:31 [2:14]
Recollection, Hob XXVIa:26 [5:54]
The wanderer, Hob XXVIa:32 [4:21]
Pastoral song, Hob XXVIa:27 [4:07]
Piercing eyes, Hob XXVIa:35 [1:40]
Despair, Hob XXVIa:28 [3:26]
Sympathy, Hob XXVIa:33 [2:45]
Pleasing pain, Hob XXVIa:29 [2:02]
She never told her love, Hob XXVIa:34 [3:23]
The mermaid’s song, Hob XXVIa:25 [3:03]
Transport of pleasure (Content), Hob XXVIa:36 [4:03]
Fidelity, Hob XXVIa:30 [3:37]
The spirit’s voice, Hob XXVIa:41 [5:55]
O tuneful voice, Hob XXVIa:42 [5:38]
Lisa Milne (soprano), Bernarda Fink (mezzo), John Mark Ainsley (tenor)
Roger Vignoles (piano)
rec. November 1999 and May 2001, Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, DDD.
Texts included (Italian and German texts are with English translation).
This recording was previously released as Hyperion CDA67174. It contains one large concert scena, Arianna a Naxos, and sixteen songs. The overall impression is of ornate elegance tinted with pink and orange. The performance of the three singers is excellent, and Roger Vignoles provides a background full of rococo charm. 
The text of Arianna drips with thick Metastasio sauce. It is a not a song but a large dramatic scena that alternates pairs of passionate recitatives and arias. The mood progresses from timid confusion and hope to rage and despair. The last aria is especially expressive and memorable. The style is not far from Mozart’s, especially in Cosí fan tutte. Bernarda Fink’s presentation is firm and polished, the embellishments sound natural, and the emotion is well in the spirit of the epoch. The careful accompaniment is not too dense.
Most of the songs are cheerful and charming. If you know Haydn’s oratorio The Seasons, you’ll recognize the style and the general uplifted mood. The composer uses the minor key sparingly, like an artist that uses cold colors to deepen a predominantly warm palette. Some songs stand amid the otherwise uniform pleasantness. A few are suspenseful, philosophical, such as the pensiveDas Leben ist ein Traum, the melancholic She never told her love, or the mysterious Song of the spirit. Fluid harmony plays an important role here, almost as much as melody - the latter sometimes seems to be intentionally simple, in order to let the harmony speak. Recollection is a vocal showpiece, yet it is reserved and loaded with emotion. The wanderer is sombre and sounds almost Schubertian; John Mark Ainsley aptly colors his voice in plaintive, baritonal hues. It is a gray ballad, far from typical Haydn.
Some of the songs are aria-like, but others are natural, like The mermaid’s song with its distinct strophic structure and catchy tune. Sailor’s Song is surprisingly similar to Papageno’s aria from The Magic Flute (Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja) in verse and character, with hurly-burly taking place of the hopsasa. Fidelity, on the other hand, is reminiscent of the Queen of the Night.
True, Haydn’s music is sweet. But, unlike our modern plastic sweets with overdose of aspartame and artificial flavor, this is more like the old European pastry that had flavor and taste. That’s why you can listen for long hours to Haydn’s piano sonatas, chamber music or songs, without feeling queasy!
This disc is probably not the best gateway into Haydn’s world. Also, I don’t quite agree with the decision to put Arianna alongside the songs. But if you are already into Haydn or into late 18th Century vocal music, then this collection can bring much contentment. The singing, the accompaniment, and the recording quality are all excellent. 

Oleg Ledeniov 

Ornate elegance tinted with pink and orange.