Wednesday 10 February 2021

Out of the archive: Songbird brings together a group of recordings Margaret Marshall made for German radio in the 1970s and barely heard since

Songbird - Purcell, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Finzi; Margaret Marshall;
- Purcell, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Finzi; Margaret Marshall;

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 February 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
From various German radio archives, a lovely group of recordings which are testament to soprano Margaret Marshall in her glowing prime

The soprano Margaret Marshall is someone whose career I have enjoyed at various stages of my opera and concert going, having caught a number of her live performances both at Scottish Opera (Euridice to Janet Baker's Orfeo in Gluck's opera, and the Countess in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro) and at Covent Garden (in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte), but she was also part of my record collection, notably on the recording of Handel's Ariodante, with Janet Baker in the title role, conducted by Raymond Leppard. This new disc, Songbird features Marshall in a number of works all recorded for German radio during the 1970s. So we have Purcell's The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation, Bach's Cantata 'Non sa che sia dolore' BWV 209, the aria 'Guardian angels protect me' from Handel's The Triumph of Time and Truth, Mozart's concert aria Ah, lo previdi and Gerald Finzi's Dies Natalis.

On her website, Marshall describes how a chance encounter four or five years ago led her to a reacquaintance with a whole series of recordings she had made for German radio during the 1970s. They all date from 1974 to 1979, a period when Marshall feels that her voice was at its freshest, and indeed it is Marshall's appealing performances which link all these various recordings.

The programme begins with Purcell's The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation, a work which for me is forever linked to the voice of Isobel Baillie. Here Marshall is accompanied by Moshe Atzmon and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1974. The style of the orchestra is firmly non-period but sympathetic and Marshall's vivid account of Purcell and Nahum Tate's scena is mesmerising as she brings intensity and a lovely fluidity to the vocal line. The recording comes from the 1974 ARD Munich Competition at which Marshall won first prize, unsurprisingly given her stunning performance here.

This is followed by Bach's Cantata 'Non sa che sia dolore' BWV 209, a secular cantata first performed in Leipzig in 1747. The performance features Hans Zender and the Saarländische Rundfunk Orchester, with Roswitha Staege (flute), recorded in 1976. From the opening notes of the sinfonia, it is clear that the recording is very definitely period, completely redolent of a time when symphony orchestras eschewed any element of the historically informed, but with Staege's fine flute playing. Marshall makes the recitatives quite considered and somewhat Mozartian in shape. Her first aria, again with lovely flute playing from Staege, is finely elegant, sung with Italianate grace though at times, I wish Zender had given the soprano more space and a less leaden tempo. The second aria has similar virtues, and a similar steadiness of tempo. But there is great delight at hearing the way Marshall's voice flows with such ease through the complex vocal part, and duets with the flute.

It is with the music of Handel and of Mozart that I principally associate Marshall, so it is a pleasure to find that there are two fine samples on the disc.

'Guardian angels protect me' comes from Handel's 1737 oratorio, The Triumph of Time and Truth, itself a reworking of his 1707 Italian oratorio Il Trionfo del Tempo e Disinganno. The performance comes from the 1976 Göttingen Festival where Marshall was accompanied by the Orchester der Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), conductor Günther Weissenborn and in fact they performed both the 1707 and the 1737 versions in two concerts over three days. In this aria, Marshall sings with her familiar bright tone and fluid manner, but succeeds in convincing of her intense identification with the subject in what is a rather slow aria. 

Then comes Mozart's concert aria Ah' lo previdi with Saarlaendische Rundfunk, conductor Hanns-Martin Schneidt from 1976. The aria is the first of two concert arias Mozart wrote for the great Czech soprano Josefa Dušek in 1776. It is a large-scale work which Marshall attacks with all the style and drama that we came to associate with her Mozart performances, an outpouring of apparently effortless flowing, shapely line.

For the final work on the disc we move forward a few centuries, for Gerald Finzi's cantata Dies Natalis, performed with the Mainzer Kammerorchester, conductor Günther Kehr in 1979. Whilst the work is perhaps best known in the version for tenor soloist (thanks to Christopher Finzi's recording with Wilfred Brown), in fact the composer first recorded the work with a soprano soloist. The first thing that should be said is that Marshall manages to get a remarkable amount of word across, despite being slightly recessed in the recording. She sings the piece as if the text really meant something to her, yet remaining stylishly engaging throughout. You can tell that it is a work she loved, and in fact it was her suggestion to the conductor to perform it. 

When it came to getting permissions for this disc, Marshall tells a lovely story on her website, 'Having obtained a copy of the recording from the Rundfunk, I was very keen to include it in this programme ... However, I knew that Gunter [Kehr, the conductor] had passed away, and I did not have any contact with the orchestra.  I took the obvious route and looked them up on the internet, found a telephone number and called it.  Incredibly the woman that answered the phone happened to be his widow who somehow after all these years recognised my speaking voice.  She was very happy to agree to my request and put me in touch with the manager of the orchestra'

This is a lovely disc, a reminder of an intelligent and engaging singer in her prime, with a group of recordings rarely heard since the 1970s.

Margaret Marshall (soprano)
Henry Purcell - The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation
    Bayerischer Rundfunk Orchester, conductor Moshe Atzmon
    Recorded on 19 September 1974
J. S. Bach - Non sa che sia dolore, BWV209
    Saarländische Rundfunk Orchester, conductor Hans Zender, Flute solo Roswitha Staege
    Recorded on 12 December 1976
Handel - Guardian Angels, from the Triumph of Time and Truth, HWV71
    Orchester der Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) conductor Günther Weissenborn
    Recorded 23 June 1976 at the Goettingen Festival
Mozart - Ah’ lo Previdi – ah t’invola agl’occhi miei, KV272
    Saarlaendische Rundfunk, conductor Hanns-Martin Schneidt
    Recorded 29th April 1976
Gerald Finzi - Dies Natalis
    Mainzer Kammerorchester, conductor Günther Kehr
    Recorded 1979

Available from Amazon.

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • A Celtic Prayer: an imaginative survey of late 20th century and contemporary Scottish sacred choral music from George McPhee and the choir of Paisley Abbey  - CD review
  • Never say Never: back in February 2020 I chatted to Selina Cadell & Eliza Thompson of OperaGlass Works, now their production of Britten's The Turn of the Screw is released on film - interview
  • Margaret Catchpole: Two Worlds Apart - Stephen Dodgson's final opera on disc at last and revealed as a work full of character and richly emotive music - CD review
  • The Russian from Hampstead: Sofia Fomina & Alexander Karpeyev explore Nikolai Medtner's complex & passionate songs - Cd review
  • Ancient and modern: two engaging new dance-based suites alongside Baroque music on the debut recording from a new American orchestra  - CD review
  • Conjuring the image of Felix and Fanny at the piano: Mendelssohn's own piano-duet transcriptions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Fair Melusine - CD review
  • Reviving early English opera, staging Baroque opera: I chat to conductor Julian Perkins about his recording of John Eccles' Semele and staging Handel's Tamerlano  - interview
  • After Purcell and before Handel: a delightful new recording of John Eccles' Semele from the Academy of Ancient Music does full justice to this unjustly neglected work  - CD review
  • Allow yourself to float: Orchestra of the Swan's mix-tape compilation, Timelapse - CD review
  • Latvian soprano Inga Kalna's debut disc, Der Rosenband, intriguingly combines songs by Richard Strauss with his Latvian contemporaries Jānis Mediņš and Alfrēds Kalniņš  - CD review
  • K: Brazilian conductor Simone Menezes and her new ensemble in Borodin, Debussy, Copland, Villa-Lobos and Lacaze  - CD review
  • Rinaldo and Armida: from Monteverdi to Rossini to Dvorak to Judith Weir, composers have been inspired by Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata - feature
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month