The Nightingale and the Butterfly – Pamela Thorby, recorders/ Elizabeth Kenny, archlute, theorbo, baroque guitar – Linn

by | Nov 19, 2010 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

The Nightingale and the Butterfly – Pamela Thorby, recorders/ Elizabeth Kenny, archlute, theorbo, baroque guitar – Linn multichannel SACD 341, 76:41 ***:

I can’t begin to tell you what a puzzlement this album is; though I have long known of Pamela Thorby’s talent and accolades, and even aware of the number of overwhelmingly positive reviews of this particular album, for the life of me I cannot figure out why no one else seems to have noticed the incredible fluctuations of pitch found here. The very opening of the first piece, the Prelude (“tendrement”) of the Hervelois G-major Suite, is riddled with borderline out-of-tune playing. Indeed, Thorby demonstrates a real propensity towards letting the pitch sag when either holding notes or ending them, letting her breath subside so that the note seems to go flat. This is more egregiously done in the slow movements than the fast ones. Of course Thorby is known for her incursions into other types of music, including jazz, and some reviews have commented on the “improvisatory” feel to her performances on this recording; but I just don’t see this as a virtue if it is intentional, and can’t figure out how an artist of her caliber could let such things slide if it is not intentional. A quick check with a number of other recorder albums (including Micaela Petri and Frans Bruggen, among others) shows no signs of such pitch sliding as I find here.

I am willing to concede that part of the problem might be the SACD; the surround sound turns the recorder into one big monster treble instrument that dominates the audio stage, with the lute a little subsidiary, and not much air around either performer—the sound is not very pleasing. To confirm this I did several double-takes with headphones only on the CD tracks, and it made a world of difference. The flat notes improved a bit, but the whole recording gained immeasurably in intimacy and was much more ingratiating to hear. I think this one case where the SA should have been rethought and redone.

The program itself is very attractive, a French-oriented view of the seventeenth-early eighteenth centuries that features some absolutely delightful music. Elizabeth Kenny is also given some solo outings and plays very nicely indeed, with a genuine feel for the period and a gossamer-like technique that projects very well. I don’t want to short Thorby—she is a fine player as most of this album shows, but somewhere along the line some decisions were made that just don’t translate well into sound. Recommended with caveats.


Couperin, F: Le rossignol-en-amour; Le rossignol-vainqueur; Double du Rossignol
Dieupart: Recorder Suite No. 1 in A Major; Recorder Suite No. 6 in F minor
Hervelois: Suite in G Major
Philidor: Sonata in D minor
Visée: Passacaille; Suite in D minor

— Steven Ritter

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