The later eighteenth century was a period in
which the wealth of London attracted composers and performers too numerous to mention from
all over Europe. The stature of Haydn and Mozart has tended to obscure the great variety of vocal
and instrumental music enjoyed at the time, more conservative in idiom, less virtuoso, but
English music for the stage has always tended more to the comic, the witty song delivered with
an actor’s panache rather than a singer's bravura. The most durable productions of the musical
theater, the operettas of librettist Gilbert and composer Sullivan, are memorable not because of
the elevated heights they reach, but because of the completely English good humor they transmit.
It will take a Savoyard approach to revive the neglected works from the age of Thomas Arne, and
the pleasure gardens of Vauxhall and Ranelagh.
This disc, from American tenor Timothy Bentch and Hungarian soprano Mária Zadori, is a
premiere recording of a charming set of cantatas by Thomas Augustine Arne published by Walsh
in 1755, and fully scored for voice accompanied by strings and winds. The texts evoke the world
of the wealthy rake of the period, who believes in women and wine (School of Anacreon),
gathering rosebuds while ye may (Delia), winning a women's heart by plying her with wine
(Bacchus and Ariadne), revenging himself on a faithless lover by being faithless himself with
another (Lydia), and sleeping only after he is incapable of drinking more (Frolick and Free).
Indeed, this rake is a complete hellraiser and rapscallion — one might almost title these Six
Tenor Timothy Bentch does an excellent job of evoking the license and liberty of the wealthy
Londoner. His attractive tone is always in the service of the expression of the text, changing in
color and force as the poetry requires, reflecting the shifting moods of the speaker. Bentch is a
compellingly persuasive performer. I was less taken by soprano Mária Zadori, who has had a
long career with many recordings for Hungaroton. Her light soprano is verging on the fluttery,
and her English diction is flawed. The contributions of the Hungarian period-instrument band are
first rate, and the sound is fine.
A valuable disc, presenting important and little-known repertoire, with a tenor we will certainly
be hearing more from. Warmly recommended.