Beach Chanson d'Amour
Amy Beach’s bestselling piece was her setting of Pippa’s song‚ ‘The year’s at the spring’ with its famous conclusion: ‘God’s in His Heaven‚ All’s right with the world’. Some such feeling pervades all these compositions. Not at the level of religious or philosophical exaltation‚ but in general mood they offer a pretty‚ genial adornment in music for a world which seems to trouble no aspect of the composing process: harmony‚ rhythm‚ form and‚ in song‚ selection of words and the manner of their setting‚ all tell of contentment. The pieces are ‘jolies’‚ ‘gemütlich’‚ ‘nice’. So are the performances‚ with Emma Kirkby’s soprano the very voice of Browning’s Pippa passing‚ all innocence and gladness.
Of course‚ the listener may not always respond in kind. Personally‚ this one grew less sweettempered by the minute. A very little of this faultlesslycrafted complacency sets me up in optimism for the day; any more and thoughts of the daily realities (massacres and muggings‚ cancers and corruptions) begin to protest. Amy Beach was not a stranger to pain. An infant prodigy (they say she sang 40 tunes in perfect pitch at the age of one)‚ a virtuoso pianist (soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at 18)‚ she married a doctor who died and left her griefstricken but ready to start up again. Her published compositions reached Op 152‚ and in a recent (but not necessarily uptodate) account twothirds of them were said to have been recorded. So we don’t have to feel either that she was one of the ‘full many a flower born to blush unseen’‚ or that this present record is a bravely pioneering issue.
There is a gentle‚ mild pleasure to be found in this drawingroom music‚ and certainly any drawingroom that was graced by artists such as these would be fortunate indeed. The instrumentalists have a fine delicacy of touch and energy of approach‚ so that the music is not allowed to languish into mere commonplace. Emma Kirkby sings with her customary purity of tone and powers of sweetly softening. The colouring ranges from white to pink or light blue‚ nothing deeper; and this would not matter if there were a real legato and/or a less bland expressiveness. My own feeling is that out of so much talent‚ the composer should have produced something less complacent than what we have here‚ and that the singer‚ at this stage in her career‚ might more happily be looking for music which would expand rather than confine the range of her expressive powers.