Friday, December 12, 2008

"Raving Winds" - Haydn's Scottish Songs and early keyboard trios

It was December 3, 2008 and we were at St Andrews Scots Memorial Church, Jerusalem, to hear “Raving Winds” – with Soloists of the PHOENIX Ensemble performing some of Haydn’s Scottish song arrangements and two of his keyboard trios. Soprano Tamar Kleinberger was joined by Yasuko Hirata (Baroque violin), Michael Borgstede (harpsichord) and Phoenix’s musical director Dr. Myrna Herzog (Baroque ‘cello.)

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) first became acquainted with Scottish songs when in London from 1791 to 1792, where he had arranged a few of them as a favor to a publisher friend, William Napier, who was in financial straits. Between 1791 and 1805 Haydn wrote arrangements of almost 400 Scottish songs, most of them for voice and trio, for other publishers, 214 of them, however, commissioned by the Edinburgh publisher George Thomson, who included Pleyel, Kozeluch, Hummel, Weber and Beethoven in his project to collect, edit and publish Scottish, Irish and Welsh folksongs; Thomson’s aim was both to preserve them and provide performance material suitable for amateur musicians, now that there was much music-making in private homes. Haydn’s arrangements, therefore, are a marriage of the gamut of Scottish folk tradition and superb instrumental writing. In addition to traditional folk poems, they include texts by Robert Burns, Alexander Boswell, Anne Grant, Joanna Baillie and Walter Scott. The songs offer some whimsical home truths, they also tell of love, (idyllic and less so), honor and pride, happiness and heartbreak and, in keeping with Scotland’s history, of war. We heard them as scored by Haydn.

“Raving winds around her blowing,
Yellow leaves the woodlands strowing,
By a river hoarsely roaring,
Isabella stray’d deploring –
‘Farewell hours that late did measure
Sunshine days of joy and pleasure!
Hail, thou gloomy night of sorrow-
Cheerless night that knows no morrow!” Robert Burns

Thus began the concert, with Kleinberger’s robust, direct performance of this typically Scottish pentatonic melody, cushioned in instrumental textures no less engaging, taking the audience into the freshness and directness of these songs, which are true gems. Follow the words and the gentle, tongue-in-cheek Scottish humor in so many of them will easily become apparent. In “The Shepherd’s Son”, where the young man sees a lady swimming in a brook and urges her to spend her time in a more suitable manner – sewing, we hear the grinding action of the sewing machine in the accompaniment. On a more serious note, “The White Cockade” (Robert Burns), referring to the Jacobite troops who had no uniform besides the emblem of a white cockade (rosette) on a blue bonnet, tells of a young woman whose love has gone off to war; she is willing to leave everything behind and follow him. Kleinberger’s strong background in theatre as well as the English language made for a performance of convincing directness. She has a large, powerful voice but, unfortunately, with the acoustic of the Scottish Church tending to blur words, both spoken and sung, much of the verbal text was indistinct. The printed program was, therefore, necessary and valuable in its information on each of the songs.

The instrumental trio played two early Haydn trios. The early piano trios were composed in mid- to end of 1750’s, when Haydn was musical director to Count Ferdinand Maximilian Franz Morzin. Reflecting characteristics of the Baroque trio sonata, Haydn gives the two trios – that in F major, Hoboken XV: 40 (1760) and that in G major, Hoboken XV: 41 –the title of “Partita” and “Divertimento” respectively, and we hear the ‘cello in its baroque capacity. With harpsichords still widely in use around 1800, it stands to reason that these early trios might well have been performed using the harpsichord. Michael Borgstede’s playing was articulate, ornamented and brilliant, well matched in character to the definite, strongly-profiled style of Yasuko Hirata, enriched and firmly grounded with Myrna Herzog’s secure and highly expressive ‘cello playing. The performance brought out much Haydnesque happiness, sensitive timing and crafted phrase endings; it was a balance between individual expression and the interaction of fine chamber musicians. What was clear to the audience was the sheer joy experienced by the players in performing these works.

Herzog’s creative programs take the audience on a variety of musical adventures. This program provided a rare opportunity to hear these marvelous Haydn Scottish song arrangements and it was an opportunity not to be missed at the hands of such fine musicians. I, myself am looking forward to hearing another performance of the same concert but in a hall with better acoustics; as a lover of lyrics, I would like to follow them word by word!

Joseph Haydn: Scottish Songs and Keyboard Trios
Soloists of Ensemble PHOENIX
Tamar Kleinberger-soprano
Yasuko Hirata-Baroque violin
Myrna Herzog-Baroque ‘cello
Michael Borgstede-harpsichord
St Andrews Scots Memorial Church, Jerusalem
December 3, 2008.

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