Foto: Werner Gura / Harmonia Mundi
To me, Haydn’s music is suffused with a tender irony, and these Scottish Airs are a lovely example. Haydn arranged the popular Scottish airs between 1800 and 1804, for the editor George Thomson, who dearly loved this kind of music. Werner Güra, the king of the lied, seems to have enjoyed himself indeed. He told me that this CD had been planned for a long time, but the recording had to be put off two times, because each time the violinist had to cancel, due to pregnancy. Then there was Julia Schröder, whom he had met during a Bach’s Passion, and she, Christoph Berner at the piano and the cellist Roel Dieltjens came together as a real trio. Their great and unplanned chemistry can be heard in each introduction and postlude. Together, these artists and the singer explored each text line and verse, in order to be able to really carry the narration together. “It’s been a joy,” says he, “to do this CD, to work with an ensemble who really pull together and understand each other.” It is certainly a joy to listen to them. The irresistible drive of the strings, the light tenderness of the piano are a joy in their own right and it’s only right that they should have a trio to themselves (Hob. XV:27). “This trio might go on working together,” says Werner Güra, “and that would certainly be a good thing.” Almost all of these airs are ballads, heroic, lugubrious, amorous or downright funny. Werner Güra seems to master the pronunciation of the Scotch words so easily that I asked him if he had a coach for that. “Oh yes,” he says, “that was Charles Johnston, from Harmonia Mundi, who also wrote the booklet. He was there during all of the recording sessions, to supervise it all. And even he had a hard time of it sometimes!” One of the admirable characteristics of this CD is precisely this apparent ease, which is in reality the result of much discipline and hard work. Werner Güra, well-coached in Scots, tells the stories with his warm and friendly voice: un evangelist who, after the drama of the Passion, goes downtown to have a pint and a laugh with the girls. In “Jenny’s Bawbee”, a young girl courageously gets rid of four admirers who in reality are after her money, her bawbee. The musicians tell this story with irresistible verve and the singer characterises one of the suitors with a deliciously hilarious falsetto. “Are you something of a clown really?” I asked him. That made him really laugh and he said: “No, not to this point. The comical element is rare in classical music and I enjoy it when it comes up, since I have sung in former times Rossini and others like him.” In “Sleep’st thou or wak’st thou”, the singer uses his tiptoe technique to approach his sleeping lady and tell us of his love. “Rattling Roaring Willie” is a paean of praise to the contemporary Prime Minister William Pitt Junior, from the heyday of the Royal Navy and every reader of Patrick O’Brian will hear a roaring sailors chorus here in the single voice of the tenor. Other pieces describe quiet landscapes, like “The Lone Valley”, one of my favourites, or they tell more stories, of gallant warriors like “Twas at the Hour of Dark Midnight” (this air belongs originally to the ballad of Barbara Allen), of an abused damsel coming back from her grave to punish the untrue lover in “William and Margaret”… This is so full of joy and the almost tangible virtuosity of the artists is never gratuitous, it serves, and admirably so, the composer, his poets and their universe. The beautiful melodies, sad or joyful, are full of drive and will continue to ring in our heads long after this delicious CD is ended. Highly recommended!