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The Artistry Of Emma Kirkby


Release Date: 02/24/2009 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 1734/5   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Frideric HandelPhilipp Friedrich BöddeckerJohann Sebastian BachChristoph Graupner,   ... 
Performer:  Emma KirkbyAgnès MellonTerence CharlstonCharles Medlam,   ... 
Conductor:  Laurence CummingsCharles Medlam
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Academy of Music Baroque OrchestraLondon Baroque
Number of Discs: 4 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a fine survey of Kirkby’s late career, giving plenty of idea of her musicianship and the brilliance of her technique... At her best on these discs she manages to balance the cool perfection of her younger self with a darker more compelling older version. Essential listening for all lovers of vocal music.

This set seems to have been assembled to celebrate Emma Kirkby’s 60th birthday, though you have to read through the CD liner-notes to discover this fact. The set consists of selections from the CDs that she has made for BIS since she started releasing records with the company in 2000. The result is an attractive set which covers quite a range of ground and gives a clear picture of Dame Emma’s current artistry
Read more and voice.

It may seem impolite to harp upon the soprano’s age, but the remarkable condition of her voice means that when you first play these discs you rather do a double take. It is not many sopranos of Dame Emma’s vintage who have preserved so much of their vocal prime. Not that everything is perfect, there is now a tendency to shade off high notes and the upper register generally lacks the freedom which it once had. The vocal tone is still clear, pure, cool and limpid but with hints that the flexibility is rather harder won than it used to be. All this must be balanced by a sense of warmth and character which is relatively new in the voice. As ever when singers age, you have to balance the reduction in vocal resources with the greater gains in depth, artistry and character.

The first disc is entirely devoted to Handel, starting with the recording of Handel’s Gloria which she made with the Royal Academy of Music Baroque Orchestra. This was the work’s first recording after having been re-attributed to Handel. Handel’s writing hints at Vivaldi and other baroque contemporaries. Kirkby’s account of the solo line is accomplished, beautiful but rather cool.

What she can do is indicated in the remaining tracks of the disc where she performs Handel Italian solo sacred music with Charles Medlam and London Baroque. On these tracks she adds a new warmth and depth to her technical ability. This makes the antiphon Salve Regina a moving little gem. This piece was written in Rome in 1707 as were the following two motets, O Qualis de Coelo Sonus (probably for Whitsun) and Coelestis dum spirat aura (for the feast of St. Anthony of Padua). Kirkby’s tones are not naturally Italianate, instead she brings intelligence, technical ability and a feeling of authority to this repertoire. This is especially seen in Laudate Pueri, Handel’s version in F major from 1706 (his earliest surviving manuscript); here Kirkby gives us some beautifully clear, clean runs and sing the slower movements with superb poise.

For the second disc we discover on of the set’s weaknesses. Though the liner notes provide excellent background information on Kirkby and we do get full texts and translations, but there are no notes about the composers. This is something of a problem on a disc which includes music by Böddecker and Graupner!

Böddecker was a composer and organist from a family of musicians; born in Alsace he went on to work at the court in Darmstadt before working in as organist in Frankfurt and at Strasbourg Cathedral. His motet, Natus est Jesus is charming, with its mixture of German and Latin texts. As with other South German composers there are Italianate hints in the music.

The two Bach cantata arias are near ideal, with only hints of strain at the top marring the sheer perfection. Kirkby is complemented by some fine solo violin playing. I couldn’t help wishing that we’d been able to hear the cantatas complete.

Christoph Graupner was born in Saxony and was taught at the Thomasschule in Leipzig. He worked at the Hamburg Opera under Keiser before moving to the court at Darmstadt. He seems to have composed nearly 1500 church cantatas. Ach Gott und Herr is for the 3rd Sunday after Trinity. Graupner opens the cantata with the solo voice singing the chorale melody, beautifully decorated by instrumental obbligato. In both the arias, Graupner complements the voice with some lovely inventive instrumental textures. This is the recording’s first appearance on disc.

Finally on the second disc we have Couperin’s 1st and 3rd Leçon de Tenèbre pour Mercredi Saint and De Lalande’s 3rd Leçon de Tenèbre pour Mercredi Saint. Kirkby’s response to this music is quite dramatic, passionate and declamatory, rather than the rather cool perfection of her recordings of this repertoire from the 1970s. She is joined by Agnes Mellon for Couperin’s 3rd Leçon. Whilst there was much to enjoy in these recordings of two mature artists in great music, I found them slightly disappointing counting the losses as well as the gains.

Disc 3 opens with a pair of cantatas by Alessandro Scarlatti. As with much of Scarlatti’s repertoire apart from the harpsichord sonatas, his music seems to live under the shadow of his father. These two are lovely nonetheless. Non so qual piu m’infomra is a charming, rather low-key pastoral cantata but it’s subject is actually sacred and the cantata celebrates the birth of the Messiah, as does O di Betlemme, altera poverta venturosa. The second cantata in particular benefits from some fine instrumental playing from London Baroque and the aria L’autor d’oni mio bene (The author of all my joys) is especially lovely.

Ariosti was an Italian composer who may have been a priest and served in Bologna until he eventually entered the service of the Duke of Mantua before spending time in Berlin, Vienna and England. His cantata Pur alfin gentil viola comes from a manuscript from Berlin, in it the poet compares the gentle beauty of the viola with the arrogant beauty of the rose. Kirkby is ably accompanied here by a delightful viola d’amore solo from Thomas Georgi.

Finally on disc 3 a group of cantatas by the Sicilian-born, Neapolitan-trained Cataldo Amodei. They are all highly characterful pieces and Kirkby brings out the variety in them, her delight in the writing radiant in her voice.

For the final disc we move to lute songs. In addition to the delight of hearing Kirkby singing in her pure, clear English, I feel that this style of song suits her voice best. She opens with a group of Dowland songs accompanied by her long term partner Anthony Rooley. They are all generally sad, beautifully and poignantly sung. But I did wonder if the speeds were a little too slow, a little too self-indulgent.

Next follows a group of songs accompanied by Jakob Lindberg, with Dowland being followed by Danyel and Johnson. This calm melancholy of this latter’s Full fathom five they father lies is beautifully caught by Kirkby and Lindberg. Kirkby’s tones in Sigismondo D’India’s Dal l’ondel del mio piano are rather too English for my taste, but there is not doubting the artistry and she is technically brilliant. Schütz’s Eile mich, Gott, su erretten is fascinatingly declamatory with echoes of Monteverdi.

The set ends with a fascinating group of songs recorded by Kirkby and Rooley at York Early Music Centre. Kirkby, a former Oxford Classics scholar, was invited to become President of the Classical Association. In lieu of an inaugural lecture she sang and the recital, all songs to classical texts or on classical themes, made its way to disc. Here we hear Henry Lawes setting Anacreon in the original Greek, along with an English’d version as well and John Wilson sets one of Horace’s odes. Lawes Tale out of Anacreon (At Dead low ebb of night) is inspired by the classics as is the cantata to Sapho by John Blow. Both are vividly performed by Kirkby and the Blow is fascinatingly free in form, with some fine flurries of technical brilliance.

This box is excellent value as you get 4 well filled CDs for the price of 2 (nearly 5 hours of music). The booklet includes articles about Kirkby and full texts and translations

This is a fine survey of Kirkby’s late career, giving plenty of idea of her musicianship and the brilliance of her technique. Whilst it must be admitted that her voice does not quite have the free and evenness it used to have, this is compensated for by warmth and keen intelligence. At her best on these discs she manages to balance the cool perfection of her younger self with a darker more compelling older version. Essential listening for all lovers of vocal music.

-- Robert Hugill, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
Gloria by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano)
Conductor:  Laurence Cummings
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Academy of Music Baroque Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1707; ?Italy 
2.
Salve Regina, HWV 241 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Baroque
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1707; Rome, Italy 
3.
O qualis de caelo sonus by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Baroque
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1707; Italy 
4.
Coelestis dum spirat aura, HWV 231 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Baroque
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1707; Italy 
5.
Laudate pueri Dominum in D major, HWV 236 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Baroque
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1707; Italy 
6.
Natus est Jesus by Philipp Friedrich Böddecker
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano)
Conductor:  Charles Medlam
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Baroque
Period: Baroque 
7.
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61: no 5, Öffne dich mein ganzes Herze by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano)
Conductor:  Charles Medlam
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Baroque
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1714; Cöthen, Germany 
8.
Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147: Bereite dir, Jesu, noch itzo die Bahn by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano)
Conductor:  Charles Medlam
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Baroque
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1723; Leipzig, Germany 
9.
Ach Gott und Herr by Christoph Graupner
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1711; Darmstadt, Germany 
10.
Leçons de tenébres: Premier leçon by François Couperin
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Agnès Mellon (Soprano), Terence Charlston (Organ),
Charles Medlam (Bass Viola Da Gamba)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1713-1717; Paris, France 
11.
Leçons de tenébres: Troisième leçon by François Couperin
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Agnès Mellon (Soprano), Terence Charlston (Organ),
Charles Medlam (Bass Viola Da Gamba)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1713; France 
12.
Non so qual più m'ingombra by Alessandro Scarlatti
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano)
Conductor:  Charles Medlam
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Baroque
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1716; Italy 
13.
Oh di Betlemme altera povertà "Cantata pastorale" by Alessandro Scarlatti
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano)
Conductor:  Charles Medlam
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Baroque
Period: Baroque 
Written: Italy 
14.
Pur al fin gentil viola by Attilio Ariosti
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Thomas Georgi (Viola D'amore), Lucas Harris (Lute),
Mime Yamahiro Brinkmann (Cello)
Period: Baroque 
15.
Cantate, Op. 2: Su l'ore che l'aurora by Cataldo Amodei
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Jakob Lindberg (Lute), Lars Ulrik Mortensen (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1685; Naples, Italy 
16.
Cantate, Op. 2: Va', ché l'hai fatto a me by Cataldo Amodei
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Jakob Lindberg (Lute)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1685; Italy 
17.
Cantate, Op. 2: Lieve al piè, grave al passo by Cataldo Amodei
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Jakob Lindberg (Lute), Lars Ulrik Mortensen (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1685; Naples, Italy 
18.
Second Booke of Songes or Ayres: no 10, O sweet woods, the delight of solitarinesse by John Dowland
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Lute)
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 1600 
19.
Second Booke of Songes or Ayres: no 1, I saw my lady weepe by John Dowland
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Lute)
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1600; England 
20.
Third and Last Booke of Songes or Aires: no 4, Daphne was not so chaste as she was changing by John Dowland
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Lute)
21.
Third and Last Booke of Songes or Aires: no 1, Farewell too faire by John Dowland
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Lute)
22.
Second Booke of Songes or Ayres: no 6, Times eldest sonne by John Dowland
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Lute)
23.
A Pilgrimes Solace: no 5, Shall I strive with wordes to move by John Dowland
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Lute)
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 1612; England 
24.
Songs for the Lute, Viol and Voice: Dost thou withdraw thy grace by John Danyel
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Jakob Lindberg (Lute)
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1606; England 
25.
Full fathom five by Robert Johnson
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Jakob Lindberg (Lute)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1611; England 
26.
Le musiche I: Da l'onde del mio pianto by Sigismondo D'India
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Jakob Lindberg (Lute)
Written: by 1609 
27.
Madrigale à voce sola: Dolce tempo passato by Georg Schimmelpfennig
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Jakob Lindberg (Lute)
Written: 1615 
28.
Kleine geistliche Konzerte, Op. 8: Eile mich, Gott, zu erretten, SWV 282 by Heinrich Schütz
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Jakob Lindberg (Lute)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1636; Germany 
29.
Paisible et ténébreuse nuit by Etienne Moulinie
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Jakob Lindberg (Lute)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 17th Century; France 
30.
Que Philis a l'esprit léger by Jean-Baptiste Boësset
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Jakob Lindberg (Lute)
31.
Anacreon's Ode, call'd The Lute by Henry Lawes
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Theorbo)
Period: Baroque 
Language: Greek 
32.
Anacreon's Ode, call'd The Lute by Henry Lawes
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Theorbo)
Period: Baroque 
Language: English 
33.
At dead low ebb of night by Henry Lawes
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Lute)
Period: Baroque 
Written: England 
34.
Orpheus' Hymn "O King of heaven and hell" by Henry Lawes
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Theorbo)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 17th Century; England 
35.
Sappho to the Goddess of Love by John Blow
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Theorbo)
36.
Diffugere nives by John Wilson
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Theorbo)
Period: Baroque 
37.
Beauty: So beauty on the waters stood by Alfonso Ferrabosco
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Theorbo)
Period: Renaissance 
Written: 1608; England 
38.
Orpheus with his lute by Maurice Greene
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Theorbo)
39.
Stop, O ye waves by John Weldon
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Anthony Rooley (Theorbo)

Featured Sound Samples

Gloria (Handel): I. Gloria in excelsis Deo
Ach Gott und Herr (Graupner): Aria: "Stelle dich zufrieden"

Sound Samples

Gloria: in excelsis Deo
Gloria: Et in terra pas
Gloria: Laudamus te
Gloria: Gratias agimus tibi
Gloria: Domine Deus
Gloria: Qui tollis
Gloria: Quoniam solus sanctus
Gloria: Cum Sancto Spiritu
Salve Regina, HWV 241: Salve Regina (Largo - Adagio)
Salve Regina, HWV 241: Eja ergo advocata nostra (Allegro)
Salve Regina, HWV 241: O clemens, o pia (Adagissimo)
O qualis de coelo sonus, HWV 239: Sonata
O qualis de coelo sonus, HWV 239: Recitativo: O qualis de caelo sonus
O qualis de coelo sonus, HWV 239: Ad plausus ad jubila
O qualis de coelo sonus, HWV 239: Recitativo: Eja ergo, mortalis
O qualis de coelo sonus, HWV 239: Gaude, tellus benigna
O qualis de coelo sonus, HWV 239: Alleluja
Coelestis dum spirat aura, HWV 231: Sonata
Coelestis dum spirat aura, HWV 231: Recitativo: Caelestis dum spirat aura
Coelestis dum spirat aura, HWV 231: Felix dies, praeclara, serena
Coelestis dum spirat aura, HWV 231: Recitativo: Vestro, religiosi principes
Coelestis dum spirat aura, HWV 231: Tam patrono singulari
Coelestis dum spirat aura, HWV 231: Alleluja
Laudate pueri, HWV 236, "Psalm 112": Laudate pueri Dominum
Laudate pueri, HWV 236, "Psalm 112": Sit nomen Domini benedictum
Laudate pueri, HWV 236, "Psalm 112": A solis ortu usque ad occasum
Laudate pueri, HWV 236, "Psalm 112": Excelsus super omnes gentes Dominus
Laudate pueri, HWV 236, "Psalm 112": Quis sicut Dominus
Laudate pueri, HWV 236, "Psalm 112": Ut collocet eum cum principibus
Laudate pueri, HWV 236, "Psalm 112": Qui habitare facit
Laudate pueri, HWV 236, "Psalm 112": Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto
Natus est Jesus
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61: Offne dich mein ganzes Herze
Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147a: Bereite dir, Jesu, noch itzo die Bahn
Cantata, Ach Gott und Herr: Choral: Ach Gott und Herr
Cantata, Ach Gott und Herr: Recitativo Accompagnato: Oh Gott, was hab ich doch getan?
Cantata, Ach Gott und Herr: Aria: Suefzt und weint
Cantata, Ach Gott und Herr: Recitativo Secco: Doch Seele, geh zuruck
Cantata, Ach Gott und Herr: Aria: Stelle dich zufrieden
3 Lecons de tenebres: Premiere Lecon de Tenebres pour le Mercredi Saint
3 Lecons de tenebres: Troisieme Lecon de Tenebres pour le Mercredi Saint
Troisieme Lecon de Tenebres du Mercredi Saint, s118

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