Margaret Marshall’s “Songbird Programme”

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PURCELL: The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation / Bayerische Rundfunk Orch.; Moshe Atzmon, cond (live: September 19, 1974) / J.S. BACH: Non sa che sia dolore, BWV 209 / Saarlaendische Rundfunk Orch.; Roswitha Staege, fl; Hans Zender, cond (live: December 12, 1976) / VIVALDI: Introduzione al Dixit, RV 636. Dixit Dominus, RV 574: 7. De torrente / English Chamber Orch., Vittorio Negri, cond (recorded 1976 for TCM) / HANDEL: The Triumph of Time and Truth: Guardian angels / Orchester der Nord Deutsche Rundfunk (NDR); Günter Weissenborn, cond (live: June 23, 1976, Goettingen) / MOZART: Ah’ lo Previdi – ah t’invola agl’occhi miei, K. 272 / Saarlaendische Rundfunk Orch.; Hanns-Martin Schneidt, cond (live: April 29, 1976) / STRAUSS: Du meines Herzens Kronelein. Ich wollt ein Strausslein binden. Schlagende Herzen / John Fraser, pno / (live: Wigmore Hall, London, 1976) / FINZI: Dies Natalis / Mainzer Kammerorchester; Günter Kehr, cond (live: 1979) / Margaret Marshall, sop / available for free streaming at the artist’s website, also on Spotify

I’ve experienced another “Carole Bogard” moment in my life.

About 20 years ago, when I was a member of an online opera message site, I expressed my admiration for soprano Carole Bogard, whose exquisite performances of Monteverdi, Handel and Bach from the 1960s and ‘70s so deeply impressed me as a teenager. Her combination of a gorgeous voice, superb phrasing and emotional projection were, I said, something I missed in so many modern-day recordings of this repertoire. One of the list members gave me her address and suggested that I write to her expressing my admiration (these were the days when not everyone had an email account!). I did, and was surprised to receive from her, as a gift, some recordings I did not have in my collection: French songs, American songs, and a Handel opera.

Today I went into my Facebook account and, to my surprise, I saw a friend request from the great Scottish soprano of the 1970s and ‘80s, Margaret Marshall. Of course I accepted it. Then I logged into my Twitter account and, lo and behold, there was a message from her daughter telling me that she was very pleased by my strong recommendation of her recording of Bach’s Mass in B Minor with Baker, Tear, Ramey and Neville Marriner, and inviting me to hear a new virtual album which she had uploaded to her website (and would soon be making available on Spotify).

The album I listened to is the one noted in the above header. As you can see, it is biased towards Baroque music and Mozart with a few Strauss songs and Gerald Finzi’s Dies Natalis added. Most of the performances are live recordings never before released, for which Ms. Marshall has obtained the rights to post online, plus a couple of tracks (the Vivaldi) recorded commercially for TCM back in the day. As she herself has noted, “It features performances from between 1974 and 1979, the period which when I look back I feel my voice was at its brightest and freshest.”

Indeed it was; her voice has a sparkle and sheen here that reminded me of Christiane Oelze, the woman with the crystal voice. It strikes the ear as almost a sound from another world, not really the product of a human throat. It is, quite simply, exquisite.

And for all of you HIP adherents who will undoubtedly cringe to hear string sections playing with vibrato in Purcell, Bach, Vivaldi and Handel, please note that there is nothing wrong with this. Eighteenth-century musicians did use vibrato when playing sustained notes  because they wanted to emulate the sound of singing voices, and believe it or not, not all 18th-century sopranos actually sounded like Emma Kirkby. She was a phenomenon, a soprano with a pure, almost boy-soprano-like timbre with the lung power and expression of a seasoned adult. Many a soprano has tried to sound like Kirkby but failed. Perhaps some should try sounding like Marshall.

I will leave it to you to discover the delights in this extended recital, but for me the highlights were Bach’s Non sa che sia dolore, a late-period secular cantata from 1747; the superb extended concert aria of Mozart, Ah’ lo Previdi – ah t’invola agl’occhi miei, written in the minor and sung with great expression in this performance; and Gerald Finzi’s not-so-often-heard Dies Natalis. These performances captured, to my ears, the artistry of Marshall at his absolute peak, and I hope you will agree.

Stream it while you can, and treasure it!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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