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S & H Recital Review

Joseph Haydn: Songs for Soprano & Piano Ludwig Van Beethoven: Folksong Arrangements Franz Schubert: Piano Sonata in E, D.566 (unfinished) Amy Beach: Songs Xaver Scharwenka: Piano Trio in G, Op.114
Emma Kirkby soprano Paul Barritt violin James Lisney piano Charles Medlam violoncello Purcell Room, 17 December 2001 (PGW)



This was music 'written to be enjoyed amongst friends' and was presented as a seasonal offering before Christmas. Only a small audience came however, deterred no doubt by an exploratory programme and one that took the ever-popular Emma Kirkby outside her usual repertoire - perhaps critics should not have been invited. Beethoven's arrangements, made strictly for money, were commissioned by the Scottish publisher George Thompson, and though they can sound disappointing on CD, even though they have been recorded by famous singers, their charm is evident in a live music making situation. This programme however, would have been better in a less clinical setting than the Purcell Room, where the hard reflective surfaces did not flatter Emma Kirkby's voice. For a change her vibrato-less style was charming enough in the Haydn & Beethoven songs, but proved quite unsuited to the unsophisticated Edwardian ballad idiom of the songs by Amy Beach, some of them with obbligato strings to augment the piano accompaniments, and there were some strained notes quite uncharacteristic of her usual ease of delivery. Phillip Scharwenka's Trio in G (1902) was less than memorable, though worth hearing once, but the promise of 'delicate almost Mahlerian episodes' proved illusory. James Lisney played the first two movements of Schubert's substantial Sonata in E minor pleasingly, with a good sense of style, but in the notes with Gilbert Schuchter's complete Schubert for Tudor Records, the common assumption that it is a two movement torso (wrongly considered by many to be based on Beethoven's Op.90) and Lisney's contention that this is the best way to present it is convincingly refuted in a full discussion of its chequered history.

I cannot resist, in my last report of the year, another opportunity to mention that Schuchter set as my greatest classical music on CD discovery of 2001, with the same pianist's 10-CD boxed Complete Piano Works of Mozart (received only a few days ago) a close runner up and another great bargain (Tudor 7084).

Peter Grahame Woolf


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