Some unjustly neglected Haydn songs lovingly performed by fine singers...subtle musicianship in fine and neglected repertory and I am sure that no one who buys it will be disappointed.
Haydn’s songs, German and English, have never quite had the standing they deserve: two of the English canzonettas and one of the German songs here are not even in the current catalogue. Most often they are sung by sopranos, but there is no reason why a tenor shouldn’t be used; Haydn, a tenor, is known to have sung them himself. The performances here, by all three singers – and Roger Vignoles’ alert and thoughtful accompanying perhaps plays a key role – take them seriously and show them as the substantial music they are.
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Bernarda Fink brings her full, beautifully even and well-formed mezzo to Ariadne’s lament when Theseus deserts her on Naxos, with her intensity in the recitatives, her expressive shaping of the lines, her passion in the final aria. And she sings the delightful ‘Auch die Sprödeste der Schönen’, not hitherto available, with lightness and wit.
John Mark Ainsley is nicely crisp in his opening ‘Sailor’s Song’ – clearly a male voice makes better sense here – and I liked too his graceful moulding of ‘Sympathy’ (both from Book 2 of the Canzonettas); though I have to say that a soprano voice seems to me happier in Haydn’s solitary Shakespeare song, ‘She never told her love’. I thought the lower part of his voice less flexible, less expressive than the upper.
Ainsley and Lisa Milne seem to have a slightly different, and less intimate, acoustic for their songs than Fink, which is a pity, for these are drawing-room pieces. I enjoyed Milne’s singing, especially in ‘Fidelity’ (there is some chubby piano tone here), which has some telling little touches of phrasing, and ‘Despair’ (though I wonder why the second verse wasn’t included). But in the ‘Pastoral Song’ (‘My mother bids me bind my hair’) a less artful touch would have been welcome, and the ‘Mermaid’s Song’, too, seems to call for a more open, freer-spirited approach. She ends with one of Haydn’s greatest songs, ‘O tuneful voice’, and here I wish that she and Vignoles had taken it less slowly, less selfconsciously: the vision in this extraordinary piece is impaired by over-emphasis.
I have to say that, for all Vignoles’ artistry, part of the trouble lies in the modern piano, which invites kinds of refinement that do not belong in this music (I recently heard a far more moving performance with a fortepiano). Still, I really don’t wish to be negative about a CD that shows much subtle musicianship in fine and neglected repertory and I am sure that no one who buys it will be disappointed.
-- Stanley Sadie, Gramophone [5/2003]
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