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CD reviews

Scottish Songs and Airs

[I] Francesco GEMINIANI & Franz Joseph HAYDN: "Scottish Songs"
Susan Hamilton, sopranoa
The Rare Fruits Council
Dir: Manfredo Kraemer
rec: Feb 19 - 23, 2009, Franc-Waret (B), Église Saint-Rémi
Ludi Musici - LM 006 (© 2013) (66'57")
Liner-notes: E/D/S; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list
Geminiani, Treatise

Francesco GEMINIANI (1687-1762): Auld Bob Marricedgh [1]; Bush aboon Traquairdeh [1]; Lady Ann Bothwel's Lamentbdgh [1]; O Bessy Bellabcdefgh [1]; Sleepy Bodybdgh [1]; The Broom of Cowdenknows & Bonny Christydegh [1]; The Country Lassdgh [1]; The Lass of Peaty's Millabcdefgh [1]; The last Time I came o'er the Moordegh [1]; The Night her silent Sable woreadefgh [1]; When Phoebus brightadefgh [1]; Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809): John Anderson (H XXXIa,2)adi; Mary's Dream (H XXXIa,1)adi; Mary's Dream (H XXXIa,1bis)adgi; Morag (H XXXIa,143bis)adi; My Boy Tammy (H XXXIa,18)adgh; O'er the hills and far away (H XXXIa,149)adgh; She rose and loot me in (H XXXIa, 219bis)adgi; Sleepy Bodie (H XXXIa,44)adi; The gard'ner wi'his paidle (H XXXIa,45)adi; The Ploughman (H XXXIa,10)adi; Young Damon (H XXXIa,71)adgh

Sources: [1] Francesco Geminiani, A Treatise of Good Taste in the Art of Musick, 1749

Jed Wentzb, Belén Nieto Galánc, transverse flute; Manfredo Kraemerd, Guadalupe Del Morale, violin; Pablo Valetti, violaf; Balász Máté, cellog; Luca Guglielmi, harpsichordh, fortepianoi

[II] Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809): "Scottish Airs"
Werner Güra, tenor; Julia Schröder, violin; Roel Dieltiens, cello; Christoph Berner, fortepiano
rec: March 2012, Neumarkt (Oberpfalz), Reitstadel
Harmonia mundi - HMC 902144 (© 2014) (65'49")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: D/F
Cover & track-list

Barbara Allen (Twas at the hour of dark midnight); Bessy Bell and Mary Gray (H XXXIa,178); Deil tak' the wars (Sleep'st thou, or wak'st thou) (H XXXIa,229); Jenny's Bawbee (H XXXIa,252); Mary's Dream (H XXXIa,1bis); Morag (H XXXIa,143bis); My Love she's but a lassie yet (H XXXIa,194); Rattling roaring Willy (O wise and valiant Willy) (H XXXIa,227); She rose, and loot me in (The night her silent sable wore) (H XXXIa,219bis); The Lea-Rig (H XXXIa,31bis); The Lone Vale (H XXXIa,175); Trio for keyboard, violin and cello in C (H XV,27); William and Margaret (H XXXIa,153); Willie was a wanton wag (There was a lass) (H XXXIa,4bis)

These two discs are devoted to Scottish music, although the word 'Scottish' has to be taken with a grain of salt. One is also inclined to think that the songs belong to the category of 'folk music', but that is questionable as well. Despite the Scottish hallmark on both programmes, no composer from Scotland is represented here.

In 1567 James had become King of Scotland as James VI when his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, was forced to abdicate. During his minority four different regents ruled Scotland. James gained full control of his government in 1583. In 1603 Elizabeth, Queen of England, died without an heir, and he succeeded her as James I. At that time Scotland and England were sovereign states, each with their own parliament and laws. When James settled in London, he was accompanied by musicians from his court. Musically speaking Scotland and England were two different worlds. This is documented in by the disc "Remember me my deir - Jacobean songs of love and lust" by the ensemble Fires of Love. However, in the music by English composers of the 17trh century gradually references to Scottish music appeared, for instance in the oeuvre of Henry Purcell. This could be the result of the presence of Scottish musicians, for instance those who accompanied James I. At the same time these pieces are often only Scottish in name, but have little to do with real Scottish music.

In the first half of the 18th century a Scottish renaissance took place. This could be explained by two factors. In 1707 Scotland and England became one kingdom under the name of 'Great-Britain' as a result of the Act of Union. Many Scots considered this as an attempt at assimilation, at the cost of their own identity. Secondly, the early 18th century saw the rise of the Enlightenment, part of which was a vivid interest in everything 'natural' and 'simple', which was exposed in the folklore of a country. The fascination of Georg Philipp Telemann by the 'barbarious beauty' of Polish folk music bears witness to that.

An important mark in the process of the rediscovery of Scottish folklore was the publication of collections of Scottish songs by the poet Allan Ramsey (1686-1758). In 1719 Scots Songs appeared, and two further publications date from between 1724 and 1727. In 1725 the singer William Thomson (fl 1695-1753) published Orpheus Caledonius, a collection of the best Scotch songs set to Musick. The latter included melodies, but Ramsey's collections included just the titles of the melodies to which the songs could be sung. It is important to note that one has to distinguish between song and air: the former refers to the text, the second to a text with music. The latter was usually derived from tradition, whereas the texts were new. This explains that many songs have two titles: one refers to the text, the other to the melody to which the words were set.

Various poets of the 18th century wrote texts to be sung to traditional melodies. One of the most famous is Robert Burns (1759-1796), whose main work, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, was printed in 1786 and was a resounding success. It was reprinted several times and had a strong influence on poets of the next generation. Between 1787 and 1803 he published six volumes with 600 songs in total, under the title The Scots Musical Museum. These included melodies, presented in a simple manner, with a modest basso continuo accompaniment.

The disc of The Rare Fruits Council includes arrangements from two different periods. On the one hand we hear all the pieces which Geminiani composed on the basis of Scottish melodies. This bears witness to the dissemination of Scottish music in England. All these arrangements are included in the appendix of A Treatise of Good Taste in the Art of Musicke which appeared in 1749. Four of them are songs, Scottish tunes with vocal parts, three are airs made into sonatas for two violins and a bass and four are airs, melodies transcribed for violin and transverse flute or violin, cello and harpsichord. Geminiani hasn't taken these pieces lightly. The last Time I came o'er the Moor is much more than entertainment. The treble parts in The Country Lass and Sleepy Body - here both played at the violin - are quite virtuosic. The scoring of two violins, two transverse flutes, viola and bc lends the acconmpaniment of The Lass of Peaty's Mill an almost orchestral weight.

The rest of that disc and the entire disc of Werner Güra are devoted to settings from the pen of Joseph Haydn. He was one of various composers who was asked to write accompanying parts to a number of songs which were sent to him by George Thomson (1757-1851). He wrote: "I conceived the idea of collecting all our best melodies and songs, and of obtaining accompaniments to them worthy of their merit [as well as] introductory and concluding symphonies". He assembled six volumes of Scottish melodies, three of Welsh and two of Irish, and commissioned six composers to provide accompaniments, preludes and postludes: Pleyel, Kozeluch, Haydn, Beethoven, Hummel and Weber. Thomson knew Haydn's music and played his string quartets at his home. He was convinced that up-to-date accompaniments, for instance for piano trio, would make these songs reach a wider public at a time of "growing European fascination with Scotland and things Scottish". Thomson sometimes adapted the texts: he wanted to avoid any political and nationalistic connotations.

In 1793 he published a first set of songs with accompaniments by Pleyel. He then approached Kozeluch who overcame his rather negative attitude towards this "primitive music". In 1799 Thomson asked Haydn to arrange folk songs. The latter had done so before: since 1791 he composed accompaniments for various publishers. Until 1804 he wrote 429 arrangements of Scottish, Irish and Welsh folk songs. Some of these were written during Haydn's two visits to London in 1791 and 1795 respectively. From 1802 Haydn arranged a number of songs which he had received from another publisher, William Whyte of Edinburgh. He sent some of these to his pupil Sigismund von Neukomm in St Petersburg to write the required accompaniments.

These folk song arrangements belong to the lesser-known part of Haydn's oeuvre. Their sheer number makes it understandable that there are very few complete recordings of this repertoire. There is certainly no such recording with period instruments. A handful of songs are recorded now and then, but the large majority is unknown. That makes these two discs especially welcome. Manfredo Kraemer has come up with the bright idea to record the complete arrangements by Geminiani and combine them with some of Haydn's settings. This allows for a comparison between the two composers and the different ways they treat the material. With Susan Hamilton he has a singer of Scottish birth at his disposal. Some of them belong to her own heritage. She sings these songs in a resfreshingly natural and idiomatic way, and that includes the pronunciation. The balance between voice and instruments is ideal. The ensemble delivers fine accounts of the instrumental parts, and emphasizes the dramatic elements.

Werner Güra had probably to go some steps further in order to master the typical idiom, and in particular the Scottish dialect. I have the impression that the result is quite good, but that is hard to assess for someone who knows nothing about this aspect. The interpretations are differentiated: he gives a moving performance of 'Twas at the hour of dark midnight, but also effectively explores the humour of Jenny's Bawbee. There are also some pretty gloomy songs, which are almost romantic in vein, such as William and Margaret; here again Güra shows great responsiveness to the text. Only now and then I found his singing a little too mannered, in comparison to the straightforwardness of Susan Hamilton. In the songs which appear on both discs Hamilton sometimes takes less time, but that is not so much due to a swifter tempo but rather to the omission of stanzas. The latter is unfortunately not mentioned in the booklet.

In Güra's recording the three movements of the Trio in C for keyboard, violin and cello are performed as interludes between songs. Christoph Berner, Julia Schröder and Roel Dieltiens provide a good performance and give sensitive interpretations of the song accompaniments. Berner plays a fortepiano by the firm Collard & Collard, but the date of construction is not mentioned. It is an instrument with English action which seems to me the right option. The keyboards in The Rare Fruits Council's recording are not specified; Luca Giglielmi plays the harpsichord in Geminiani, but also in some of Haydn's songs; in most of the latter he uses a fortepiano, but I don't know what kind of instrument he plays.

Both discs are very fine additions to the discography. A complete recording of Haydn's folk song arrangements on period instruments is long overdue, and the arrangements of other composers, such as Hummel and Pleyel should be given more attention as well. In the meantime, every lover of Haydn's music and obviously also those who are interested in this kind of folk music will greatly enjoy these two discs.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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