The calling card here is the use of an Amsterdam edition of Haydn's Op. 33 string quartets that reverses the order of some of the inner movements. It's never made clear why this edition should get priority over the dozens of others that circulated around Europe, with and without Haydn's consent, but so be it; there are some tempo novelties here that shed some light on how Haydn's music was received, at least in some quarters. There the good news ends.
Emma Kirkby, doyenne of the Early Music scene, here shows that she's just as comfortable in music of a more recent vintage. Amy Beach was a woman ahead of her time, performing as solo pianist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra by the age of 18. The same year (1885), she married Henry Beach and, no longer able to perform publicly (it would have gone against her social status), she instead settled down to composing. And delightful stuff it is, too, as Kirkby and friends demonstrate in this charming recital. A number of the songs add violin, cello, or both to the piano and voice combination. "Ecstasy," for instance, has a most effective violin part that is an ideal foil to the purity of Kirkby's voice. Other highlights include the Schumannesque Browning Songs and the amiable Shakespeare Songs (the last of which, "Fairy Lullaby," is irresistible). The final item here, "Elle et moi," is an upbeat little number that suits Kirkby's lithe soprano to perfection. Occasionally, in some of the more lushly textured songs, such as "A Mirage" and "Stella Viatoris," perhaps a fuller voice would have been preferable, but then sample "Chanson d'amour" (written when Beach was only 21 and with a wonderful cello part in addition to the piano) and try to imagine it being better sung. The purely instrumental items are played with unfailing sensitivity and elegance. The Romance is straight out of the salon, while the much later Piano Trio (though actually based on early material) packs plenty of emotion and variety into its 14 minutes. The recording is exemplary, as are the concise notes and texts and translations.
The London Virtuosi use modern instruments, but their playing is fresh and refined and the digital recording is natural and beautifully balanced. The calibre of Anthony Camden’s solo contribution is readily shown in slow movements, matched by Georgiadis’s rapt, sensitive accompaniments. On the first disc Camden’s excellent colleague is Julia Girdwood, but for the two other collections Alison Alty takes over, and the partnership seems even more felicitous, with the two instruments blended quite perfectly. Also included is a Sinfonia arranged by Camden a Sinfonia concertante. This series can be strongly recommended on all counts.–Penguin Guide