Dark Garden

Author: 
Michael Oliver

Dark Garden

  • (4) Songs, Ariette (wds. Shelley)
  • (3) Browning Songs, No. 2, Ah, love, but a day
  • By the still waters
  • (4) Songs, Just for This (Wds. C. Fabbri)
  • (3) Shakespeare Songs, O mistress mine
  • Romance
  • (5) Burns Songs, Dearie
  • (A) Humming Bird
  • (3) Songs, Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon
  • Hymn of Trust
  • (3) Compositions
  • (3) Songs, Extase (wds. V. Hugo)
  • (3) Songs, Elle et moi (wds. F. Bovet)
  • (4) Songs, Juni (wds. E. Jansen)
  • Dark Garden
  • Lento espressivo
  • (3) Songs, Ecstasy (with violin obbligato: wds. cpsr)
  • From Grandmother's Garden
  • (3) Songs, Dark is the Night
  • Rendezvous

There are circles in which Amy Beach (1867–1944) is spoken of as though she were the Artemisia Gentileschi of music, a major talent obscured by the conscious or unconscious prejudice of male historians ('there are no great women composers, therefore Amy Beach can't be one therefore we don't need to look at her music'). Well, she may be a major talent: she wrote a large-scale setting of the Mass, a piano concerto, a symphony, a one-act opera and some big chamber pieces (none of which I have heard) and the pieces collected here may well be her trifles, her minor works: most composers have written such things after all, in the fallow periods between masterpieces. Trifles they certainly are, however, and the depressing thing is that they get more and more minor as her career progresses. The very early works are charming, poised half-way between the Lieder recital and the drawing-room: the Ariette a serenade-like Shelley setting written when Beach was 19, is liltingly fresh; so is Elle et moi, with its unexpected coloratura and its pretty French accent. But the later music is dispiritingly empty: the Lento espressivo a rather tuneless waltz that seems long at just under three minutes, Rendezvous setting glum words to clumpingly wooden rhythms, By the still waters not much more than a technical exercise in arpeggioplaying.
Perhaps it's best to treat her, on this showing, as a pleasing salon composer who had her off-days. Ah, love, but a day is a superior drawing-room ballad, Just for this! manages to stay just on this side of whimsy in spite of its unbearably whimsical words; the Romance is a graceful if insubstantial morceau de concert; the Hymn of trust is indeed a hymn, oddly but agreeably equipped with a soulful violin obbligato; there are fragrant little ideas, rather over-extended, in the Op. 40 pieces for violin and piano. But drawing-room trifles crucially depend (more so, perhaps, than do larger-scaled structures) on a fluently ingratiating melodic gift, and this is lacking in most of the other music collected here.
It is affectionately performed, but a better case would have been made for it if Fortunato had found a middle ground between her palely bright soprano register and her precarious contralto (her choice of keys alternates between too high and too low), and if Eskin had played less forcefully. Only Silverstein, scaling down his tone discreetly, succeeds in the difficult art of playing minor music without pretension. The recording, described as ''Natural Sound'', is unnaturally close.'

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