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Margaret Marshall (soprano)
Songbird - Rediscovered Recordings from my Career
rec. 1974-79; all live, except Vivaldi. Stereo
Private release [76:13]

As much as I have long loved Margaret Marshall’s soprano and have always looked to add her recordings to my collection, it was only when I was gathering my thoughts for this review that I fully realised just how many of her recordings were my favourites among the many versions on my shelves. Her repertoire was broad but especially strong in baroque and early Classical music, including works by Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Pergolesi, Gluck, Haydn and Mozart, all of whose music she recorded extensively throughout the late 70 ‘s and early 80’s - but she also made two beautiful recordings of Elgar’s oratorios, The Light of Life and The Kingdom, and even recorded the soprano roles in Mahler’s Fourth and Eighth Symphonies.

The following of her recordings are top choices for any collector:

Handel Dixit Dominus, Gardiner (1976)
Bach Mass in B minor, Marriner (1977)
Mozart Great C minor Mass, Marriner (1979)
Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice, Muti (1981)
Pergolesi Stabat Mater, Abbado (1984)

She was also a wonderful Fiordiligi, which you may hear in the 1982 live Cosě fan Tutte conducted by Muti, with whom she worked frequently, as she did with Neville Marriner. Finally, there is also Haydn’s Creation conducted by Kubelik which was issued first on LP, then a now deleted CD set but happily is still widely available as a download.

All of which is as preamble to my appreciation of this compilation of previously unissued recordings launched on 20 September 2020 and which, in Ms Marshall’s own words, are “a treasure chest of concerts [she] had performed for radio broadcast which[she] had either never heard or not heard since their initial broadcast.” For more background to the genesis of this project, rather than reproduce already available information, I refer you to her own website for this release; where you will also find her extensive and entertaining reminiscences connecting to each of the items here in this programme.

In its fluting purity, her voice is remarkably similar to two other great and favourite sopranos, Gundula Janowitz and Margaret Price – comparisons which I hope Ms Marshall will take as they are meant: the highest of compliments. All the best qualities of her soprano are reflected here in these recordings made early in her career, which she describes as “the period which when I look back I feel my voice was at its brightest and freshest”. Like Janowitz, despite the lyrical quality of her voice, Marshall was never a “tweety-bird”; there is plenty of warmth and heft in her tone and she has superb breath control, seamless legato, a pleasingly fast vibrato, a proper trill and pellucid diction - all are hallmarks of her art but more importantly her soprano has that special, individual and instantly recognisable character which makes the listener’s heart leap as soon as she starts to sing.

There is nothing about her prize-winning performance of the Purcell to suggest that in 1974 she was still a student with Hans Hotter; she already sounds like a mature artist, singing with enormous assurance and brio. Her repeated cries of “Gabriel!” are powerfully delivered and deeply affecting

The Sinfonia which acts as a prologue to the Bach cantata is graced by a delightful flute solo and flautist Roswitha Staege continues to duet with the soprano throughout the first aria, the two voices entwining about and answering each other seductively, the flute reflecting and enhancing the instrumental quality of Marshall’s voice.

A remarkable feature of her singing of the dynamic Mozart concert aria is how she maintains power and intensity throughout despite the high tessitura and the relentless, driving pace of its outer sections; the aria must be desperately challenging to sing yet she makes it sound…not effortless, as it is meant to be an anguished and dramatic tale of rage, grief, supplication and finally resignation, all of which emotions Marshall embraces, but she is certainly in command of its challenges – and if Riccardo Muti was sniffy about her Italian diction when he first auditioned her the same year as this recording, here its sinews seem to have hardened somewhat.

The concluding Finzi is certainly a programmatic departure from that which precedes it but the same vocal qualities are much in evidence: flawless intonation, notes hit dead centre – Marshall never swoops or scoops – and a simplicity of utterance which always hits the mark.

The recording quality throughout is excellent; I was expecting something much more homespun – as can too often be the case with tapes from radio broadcasts – but there is virtually no hiss, distortion or audience noise in the live recordings, just good 70’s stereo with remarkable clarity and definition. The sound in “Guardian Angels” is not quite so fine, but the singing is so sublime as to divert the listener’s attention from any slight deficiency.

I was kindly sent CD copies for the purpose of review but the programme itself is available for purchase only as a download on Apple/Spotify, or streaming for free via her website or Soundcloud.

On the website, as a bonus, you may also hear Marshall singing two Vivaldi items which are the sole commercial recordings. They pose no insurmountable challenges to such an agile, flexible voice; her ease of production is a joy. Introduzione al Dixit is thoroughly satisfying, but with the De Torrente we move into an even more exalted sphere both of music and execution, where she despatches the liquid roulades of the music with consummate ease and grace. Also on the website are three Strauss songs, where she is accompanied by John Fraser, live in the Wigmore Hall: “Du meines Herzens Krönelein”, “Ich wollt ein Strausslein binden” and “Schlagende Herzen” all sung in a manner which not only showcases the soaring beauty of her voice but also demonstrates her mastery of the genre and idiom of the Lied.

I urge all devotees of fine singing to enjoy this previously unheard testimony to the enduring appeal of Margaret Marshall’s lovely voice.

Ralph Moore

Henry Purcell: The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation [8:28]
Bayerische Rundfunk Orchester/Moshe Atzmon
J. S. Bach: Non sa che sia dolore, BW209 [23:03]
Roswitha Staege (flute)
Sinfonia [6:18]
Recitative: Non sa che sia dolore [0:53]
Aria: Parti pur [9:46]
Recitative: Tuo saver al tempo e l’eta contrasta [0:35]
Aria: Ricetti gramezza e pavento [5:31]
Saarlaendische Rundfunk Orchester/Hans Zender,
G.F. Handel: Guardian Angels, from the Triumph of Time and Truth, HWV71 [5:52]
Orchester der Nord Deutsche Rundfunk (NDR)/Guenter Weissenborn;
Göttingen Festival
W. A. Mozart: Ah’ lo Previdi – ah t’invola agl’occhi miei, KV272 [13:05]
Saarlaendische Rundfunk/Hanns-Martin Schneidt
Gerald Finzi: Dies Natalis [25:45]
Intrada [5:19]
Rhapsody [7:09]
The Rapture [4:05]
Wonder [4:21]
The Salutation [4:51]
Mainzer Kammerorchester/Guenter Kehr

Bonus tracks (website only):
Antonio Vivaldi:
Introduzione al Dixit, R636 [6:13]
De Torrente, from Dixit Dominus, R594 [3:34]
English Chamber Orchestra/Vittorio Negri
Richard Strauss:
Du meines Herzens Krönelein [2:23]
Ich wollt ein Strausslein binden [3:07]
Schlagende Herzen [2:25]
John Fraser (piano)

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