JOSEPH HAYDN'S fling with highland music came about as a result of his first trip to England in 1791. In the 18 months he spent there, his prolific energies embraced not only symphonies and sonatas, but also arrangements for folk songs commissioned by several Scottish publishers.
The melodies were separated from the original Scots lyrics, given simple chamber music settings by Haydn and eventually reunited with a lyric (though not always the original one). Because these songs were directed at genteel, refined audiences -- they were performed alongside opera and art songs -- the lyrics were often sanitized, either through Anglicization or marriage to new words by established poets of the day (including the equally prolific Robert Burns).
Jean Redpath, the great Scots traditional singer, has now recoded 15 of the Haydn Scottish songs, often returning to their original lyrics. She is subtly aided by violinist David Gusakov, pianist/harpsichordist Jonathan Feldman and her longtime accompanist Abby Newton, whose eloquent cello takes the place of the violin on some songs and augments the ensemble on others. Redpath's rich voice is also cello-like, investing such songs as "Up in the Morning Early" and "Mary's Dream" with a wistful melancholy that is closer to the ballad than the chamber music tradition.
Because of the Haydn arrangements, there is an enchanting Viennese classicist symmetry and grace to all the songs. Thanks to Redpath's earthy/ethereal renderings, however, the songs' folk origins ring through clearly, as on the universal plaint of "Todlen Hame":
"When I hae sixpence under my thumb
Then I'll get credit in ilka toon
But aye when I'm poor, they bid me gae by
O! Poverty pairts gude company
Todlen hame, todlen hame
O! Couldnae my love come todlen hame."
JEAN REDPATH -- "Haydn: Scottish Songs" (Philo 1082); appearing Friday at the Department of Commerce Auditorium.