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Calliope - Beautiful Voice Vol 1 / Emma Curtis, The Frolick


Release Date: 07/25/2006 
Label:  Avie   Catalog #: 2102   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  AnonymousHenry PurcellHenry CareyGeorge Frideric Handel,   ... 
Performer:  Emma Curtis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Music by CORELLI, PURCELL, VANBRUGH, HANDEL, RAMSAY, GALLIARD, GEMINIANI, CAREY, HOLCOMBE, GREENE, LAMPE, PESCETTI, DIGARD, MONRO, BOYCE, ARNE, MARTIN, BURGESS, BOWMAN, ANGOSINI, ANON

The increasing popularity of domestic music-making in the 18th century resulted in an exponential growth in the demand for publications that would meet an ever-expanding market. In England, such socializing of music has its roots in the Civil War, when, as the historian Roger North famously observed, “many chose rather to fidle [sic] at home, than to goe and be knockt on the head abroad.” One of the most common kinds of publication was the songbook, which collected tunes that had become popular in the opera house and theater, along with ballads
Read more and tunes of folk origin, often Scottish in origin. Such songbooks were frequently published with apposite engravings at the head of each song, as in the case of Calliope, first issued in two volumes in 1739 under the imprint of John Simpson.

It’s a repertoire that has received little attention from either scholars or musicians, who tend to have rather more important things on their minds than unpretentious songs whose musical value is frequently slight. However, increasing interest in the place of music in society has opened the door to greater attention being devoted to a repertoire that often sheds light on the social mores of the day. Emma Curtis, therefore, deserves great credit for the extensive research she has undertaken in order to revive one of the most popular of the earlier songbooks. The present set is devoted to the first volume of Calliope, from which 52 songs have been selected; a second recording, devoted to volume 2, is promised. The two-CD set is housed in a slipcase with an accompanying booklet with notes and a useful commentary on each song alongside the printed text, an object lesson in how such things should be done. All the greater pity, then, that Maurice Greene’s name should have been spelt without the e on both the cover, and in the contents listing, although Curtis gets it right in her notes. Also, the text and composer attribution for tracks 8 and 20 have been switched, the confusion obviously arising from both songs having the same title, The Coquet.

The songs themselves require little comment, those by native figures being notable above all for their simple melodic appeal. The lion’s share here are the work of Henry Carey (c. 1687–1743), who pursued a career as both dramatist and composer, and John Frederick Lampe, the German émigré composer with whom Carey collaborated in a number of stage productions. Drinking songs, pastoral topics, humor, and the gently sentimental all feature, among the most appealing examples of the last being The Address to Sleep, the only known piece by Jonathan Martin (1715–1737), on this evidence yet another example of a talented English composer dying at a shockingly youthful age. One of the most fascinating sub-categories is that of songs treating Italian opera and its singers in ironic fashion, a perennially fashionable topic among English composers who resented foreign intrusion, The Beggar’s Opera (1728) being only the most famous tip of a large iceberg. Henry Holcombe’s The Syren of the Stage is quite explicit in requesting in its final lines that Francesca Cuzzoni, one of Handel’s most famous prima donnas, “leave us as we ought to be/leave ye Britons rough and free,” while Carey’s words for A Dialogue between Punch and Columbine not only satirize Senesino’s huge earnings, but also the rivalry between Handel and Porpora, for which Columbine declares: “I don’t care a farthing.” And all this, in true Beggar’s Opera tradition, to the music of Handel’s own “Scacciati del suo nido” from Rodelinda.

I confess to finding Curtis’s voice puzzling. She is described as a contralto, and it is certainly true that she has notes in that range, but much of her singing here occupies mezzo territory, and she seems to extend into the soprano register without too much problem. More disconcerting is a waver—not vibrato—that often obscures true pitch. There’s also a tendency to bring, in this context, too much artifice to some songs, Purcell’s “Celia has a thousand charms” (from The Rival Sisters) being the most glaring example. Diction is not always all it might be, either. Notwithstanding such caveats, the overall effect is quite pleasing, especially as Curtis is well supported by The Frolick, a small instrumental ensemble. If the set is likely to be more of specialist than generalized interest, it deserves plaudits for an enterprise that shows there was more to music in 18th-century England than Handelian hegemony.

FANFARE: Brian Robins
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Works on This Recording

1. Cupid and Venus by Anonymous
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
2. Sophonisba, Z 590: Celia has a thousand charms by Henry Purcell
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
Period: Baroque 
Written: ?1685; England 
3. The Supplication by Henry Carey
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
4. A New Song by Anonymous
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
5. A Dialogue between Punch and Columbine by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
Period: Baroque 
6. The Forsaken Nymph by Henry Holcombe
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
Period: Baroque 
Written: England 
7. Arianna in Creta, HWV 32: Aria(s) by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1721/1734; London, England 
8. The Coquet by John Frederick Lampe
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
9. Work(s) by Francesco Geminiani
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
10. The Country Girl’s Farewel by Anonymous
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
11. Alcina, HWV 34: Aria(s) by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1735; London, England 
12. The Royal Chace: With early horn by John Ernest Galliard
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
13. Dying Swan by George Monro
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
14. The Charmer by Giovanni B. Pescetti
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
15. The Syren of the Stage by Henry Holcombe
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick
16. Sad Musidora by Henry Carey
Performer:  Emma Curtis (Alto)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Frolick

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