It is salutary to recall how strange Emma Kirkby's pure vibrato-less voice sounded to us when she was launched upon the public; I first heard her at the Royal Albert Hall in Monteverdi's Vespers 1602 and was mesmerised by this extraordinary apparition with her long fair hair, a veritable angel. As a classics student at Oxford, and then a schoolteacher, she sang for pleasure without any intention to become a professional singer. She had not been taught to sing thus, but found it natural for her to do so and in 1973 began her long association with the Consort of Musicke. It was not long before her way became a bench-mark for aspiring baroque singers.
This new CD is particularly strong for the unfamiliarity of most of the verse selected, and its quality, appropriately so because the programme was first given in lieu of an inaugural lecture when Emma Kirkby was elected Honorary President of England's Classical Society. She sings Anacreon in Greek and Horace in Latin. Henry Lawes links seventeenth century England with Greece in c.500 BC. Composers like Campion (poet and composer) were polymaths with wide ranging scholarship which fed his sources; the best known song here is his tribute to a Boetian poetess, When to her lute Corinna sings. A group of five songs draw on legends about Orpheus, the last two by William Boyce humorous (Pluto took pity on Euridice and took her back from matrimony "before 'twas too late, And said she'd be happier in Hell"), prefiguring Offenbach's disrespectful treatment of ancient mythology.
Emma Kirkby is accompanied (a little too discreetly for my preference) by Anthony Rooley on the theorbo-lute, an instrument which is often overshadowed within period orchestras. With full texts in English, plus the original Greek and Latin when required, and full notes by Anthony Rooley and Emma Kirkby herself, this anthology is a very welcome addition to the vast Kirkby discography.
Copyright © 2002, Peter Grahame Woolf