Plenty of vocalists can be emotional and sob in tune, but it takes someone special to transform the practices within their field, to command a repertory covering a thousand years of music, to excel at ensemble as well as solo performance, and to have influenced a generation of singers. Kirkby’s vibrato-less voice has shed new light on everything from Hildegard to Schubert, and on operatic roles in Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Hasse’s Cleofide. Recently she has turned to Amy Beach and Debussy, and in 2001 performed a revelatory Mahler Symphony No. 4 under Roger Norrington in New York. Behind the sweetness there is world-class musicality and professionalism and enormous sensitivity towards the text. In terms of the history of music Emma has made us look back, but in relation to the history of performance style (a rather separate matter) she points forward, signalling the death of the old Romantic indulgences.
In her own words: ‘As a singer you are almost never alone completely; there’s always someone to sing with, to interact with… I want to be expressive, but I know one achieves that power as a team effort, realising the elements the composer has combined.’
Greatest recording: Emma Kirkby sings Handel etc Decca 458 0842 (2 discs)