Title: Songs For Courtiers & Cavaliers
Artist: Watts, Helen
Label: Eloquence Australia
Product Type: COMPACT DISCS
Genre: Classical Vocal Crossover
Three L'Oiseau-Lyre LPs celebrating the art of a much-loved contralto newly remastered and compiled together for the first time, including material new to CD. The history of British contraltos on record extends beyond Kathleen Ferrier to Constance Shacklock and before her Dame Clara Butt, but their select number was joined in the 1950s by Helen Watts: 'An extraordinary contralto,' in the words of her modern counterpart, Nathalie Stützmann. Having left her Welsh home and graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, she quickly established herself as Ferrier's successor on the oratorio platform with memorable performances of Bach and Handel under Sir Malcolm Sargent and Sir Adrian Boult. At the same time she began making records for L'Oiseau-Lyre, in complete and pioneering accounts of Semele and Sosarme, first of all and recently reissued by Eloquence. Louise Hanson-Dyer, the label's founder, patroness and animating spirit, was sufficiently impressed at that stage to engage Watts for a solo disc, which duly appeared in 1957 under the fanciful title of 'Songs for Courtiers and Cavaliers'. From the opening bars of Caccini's Dolcissimo sospiro it is evident that Dyer's faith in her young contralto discovery was well-founded, with projection combining warmth and strength in equal and winning measure with the kind of unforced excellence of diction that had already made her a sought-after fixture on the British oratorio circuit: 'a beautiful record,' as Gramophone's Alec Robertson remarked. The success of 'Courtiers and Cavaliers' then led to an album of songs by Purcell and Scarlatti, made in July 1957, and Bach cantatas for alto, in April 1958. All three albums were shaped by the sensitive and scholarly artistic direction of Thurston Dart, and they mixed well-loved with little-known repertoire. Thirteen songs by Henry Lawes introduced many listeners to one of seventeenth-century England's most original voices, and Watts's beautifully modulated accounts of If music be the food of love and Widerstehe doch der Sünde retain their luster even in our historically informed times.