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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809): "Arianna a Naxos, Lieder & Canzonettas"

Stéphanie d'Oustrac, mezzosoprano; Aline Zylberajch, fortepiano

rec: Nov 11 - 14, 2009, Jujurieux, Les Soieries C.J. Bonnet
Ambronay Éditions - AMY023 (© 2010) (60'00")

Als einst mit Weibes Schönheit (H XXVIa,44); Arianna a Naxos (H XXVIb,2); Beim Schmerz, der dieses Herz durchwühlet (H XXVIa,37); Das Leben ist ein Traum (H XXVIa,21); Der erste Kuss (H XXVIa,3); Die zu späte Ankunft der Mutter (H XXVIa,12); Eine sehr gewöhnliche Geschichte (H XXVIa,4); Fidelity (H XXVIa,30); Pastoral Song (H XXVIa,27); Pleasing Pain (H XXVIa,29); She never told her love (H XXVIa,34); The Spirit's Song (H XXVIa,41); The Wanderer (H XXVIa,32)

The song for voice and keyboard is mostly associated with Franz Schubert, but long before him that kind of pieces were written, in particular in Germany and Austria. One of the first to write songs on German texts for voice with keyboard accompaniment was Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Haydn also wrote a number of German songs, but it is mostly his songs on English texts, in particular on poems by Anne Hunter, which is given attention, whereas his German songs are largely ignored.

It is therefore most welcome that Stéphanie d'Oustrac and Aline Zylberajch have included a number of German songs into their programme of 'Lieder and Canzonettas' by Haydn. There is a clear development in the texture of Haydn's songs, from rather strict strophic to through-composed songs, and towards a greater independence of the keyboard part. The songs are not performed in chronological order, so listening to this disc from start to finish doesn't reveal this development.

In the booklet Aline Zylberajch writes: "We have chosen for this recording to follow an amorous thread, to take a sentimental journey through the lieder and canzonettas of Haydn. We go from the first innocent emotions, through silent suffering, to the torments of betrayed love, sublimated in the magnificent cantata Arianna a Naxos." That does describe only the key points of this journey, as there are also some songs which can hardly be described as reflecting "innocent emotions", but are characterised as "overly licentious" in Rémy Stricker's programme notes (Eine sehr gewöhnliche Geschichte, Die zu späte Ankunft der Mutter).

The songs were written at various stages in Haydn's career, and also at different places. Historically speaking that should result in a differentiation in the choice of keyboard. Most songs on German texts were published in the early 1780's, and at that time Haydn was still playing the harpsichord rather than the fortepiano. Considering the fact that the fortepiano was quickly becoming a common instrument, there is no objection against using a fortepiano. The instrument used here is not specified. It could well be a (copy of) a Walter instrument, probably dating from the end of the 18th century. Such an instrument would be a bit too late for these songs. The English canzonettas, on the other hand, were written in England, when Haydn was writing for an instrument with English action, which is quite different from instruments with German action.

Having said that I hasten to assure that this is a very fine disc. Stéphanie d'Oustrac is a versatile singer with much experience in dramatic works, including operas, of the 17th and 18th centuries. She has a strong voice with a wide range, an excellent diction, and above all great dramatic flair. That comes to the fore particularly in the cantata Arianna a Naxos which has the structure of a baroque chamber cantata, with its sequence of two recitatives each of which is followed by an aria. But stylistically it is rather an operatic scene whose arias include elements of the recitative. Stéphanie d'Oustrac sings it brilliantly, and Aline Zylberajch delivers an evocative performance of the keyboard part.

But other songs are also performed with a theatrical approach, for instance Eine sehr gewöhnliche Geschichte. This way of performing these songs is certainly debatable. I am not sure that songs like these should be performed as pocket-size operas, as it were. But there is not a dull moment here, and the theatrical interpretations Stéphanie d'Oustrac and Aline Zylberajch are delivering make this disc very captivating.

This is a disc not to be missed, and hopefully it will encourage other singers and keyboard players to pay attention to Haydn's German songs.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Aline Zylberajch

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