ENTERTAINING MISS AUSTEN: Newly Discovered Music From Jane Austen’s Family Collection • Amanda Pitt (sop); John Lofthouse (bar); David Owen Norris (pn) • DUTTON CDLX 7271 (73:55)
Obviously aimed to fans of Jane Austen’s classic novels, this disc offers mildly pleasant but decidedly slender musical fare—five solo piano pieces and 16 songs drawn from 17 music albums owned by Jane Austen or her near relations. Except for one song by Haydn and a keyboard arrangement of the overture to RodelindaRead more by Handel, the assorted selections are by various quite obscure composers and arrangers, including the ubiquitous Anon., though one’s interest is mildly piqued at the inclusion of a “Fairy Dance” by Mattias Holst, the great-grandfather of Gustav Holst, and the presence of three women among the composers. Intended for genteel amusement in private parlors and at society soirées, three of these popular songs are known (through Jane’s niece Caroline) to have been particular favorites of the renowned author. The performances themselves are stylish and enjoyable, though soprano Amanda Pitt has a somewhat matronly voice with a wobble, and baritone John Lofthouse has an incipient beat in his upper register. The period piano, ably played by David Owen Norris, has a quite ingratiating sound that fits the music perfectly. The recorded sound is fine, with a bit of distance from the performers allowing for a touch of resonance. While hardly an essential acquisition, this release will appeal to Austen aficionados and to those interested in early 19th-century popular musical fare.