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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Complete Songs
see end of review for track listing
Hermann Prey (baritone)
Pamela Coburn (soprano)
Leonard Hokanson (piano)
*Heinrich-Schütz-Kreis Berlin/Wolfgang Malkowitz
rec. RIAS Studio, Berlin, 1987-89.
CAPRICCIO C5140 [3 CDs: 76:12 + 76:38 + [71:32] 

Originally issued in the 1990s, this recent re-release from the Austrian label Capriccio is a rather perplexing mix of the good and the not so good. To begin with the title, these are not the complete 'complete songs' of Beethoven - the 170-odd folksongs are absent, ditto those for three or more voices, 'Traute Henriette' (for voice and piano, Hess 151) and the handful of stand-alone orchestral songs for one or more voices Beethoven wrote. Happily, that still leaves 86 to be enjoyed here over the space of nearly four hours.
 
Beethoven's memory rightly lives on through a number of cycles and individual songs, especially the through-composed ones, but it is also fair to say he was not always at his most inspired in this particular genre. Even some dignified with opus numbers seem the product of market demand rather than artistic fertility. The Four Ariettas and Duet of op.82 are settings of Metastasio and straight out of light opera, whilst op.52 is a mundane case in point - although the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung's judgment at the time, "thoroughly common, impoverished, dull and in parts even risible works" is rather harsh. Beethoven's staunchest admirers could point to the fact that he wrote some of these songs when he was only thirteen, and others in his later teens, although the Allgemeine would doubtless respond that he was well into his thirties when he came to op.82, an age that Schubert did not get anywhere near.
 
Most of the songs are sung by Hermann Prey, who on the original releases received much more prominent billing. A smaller number are performed by Pamela Coburn with the odd duet and, odder still, by solo voice with chorus. The determined pianist throughout is Prey's long-time accompanist Leonard Hokanson, who died in 2003.
 
Prey himself had died five years before, long since having achieved the fame and fortune he craved and having become one of the most-sold 'classical' recording artists ever. He was around sixty when he recorded these songs and his voice is still pretty good for its age. His breath control in 'Wo die Berge so blau', for example, is remarkable - there is not a single pop singer that could not benefit massively from listening. Always ego-driven, Prey himself may not have admitted that he was past his best, but in these recordings he is undoubtedly breathier in places, more nasal, and with a certain amount of strain in the upper range. Moreover, some of the songs about young love sound rather strange coming from someone his age. Although it is true that he did receive much praise for his Schöne Müllerin (Schubert) only a year before his death, in An die Hoffnung op.94, and elsewhere, the melodramatic emotions seem more confected - as indeed they must have been - than truly felt.
 
Irritatingly, the accompanying booklet, for all its thickness, provides no biographical information regarding Prey or US-born Pamela Coburn. She, happily, is still going strong. Her voice was in its prime for these recordings and, aside from the fact that even she is unable to conjure up much enthusiasm for some of the doggerel or more lacklustre music, she outshines Prey. Unlike him, she is not a native German speaker, but her operatic roles in Strauss (Richard and Johann), Mozart and Wagner have been well received, and it must be said that she sings with very little trace of foreignness. In the handful of Italian songs, both she and Prey are convincing.
 
The forty-side booklet does provide all the sung texts, but only in the original German - monolinguals will have to go to the bother of tracking down translations on the internet. There are a few typos to be found here and there, and the omission of the odd line or two, but on the whole things are well presented. English-readers have at least the compensation of notes that take the reader through the landmarks of Beethoven's song-writing career. Sound quality is very good. The piano is not an equal partner - set back, slightly muffled - but in light of its relatively matter-of-fact role, this seems largely appropriate.
 
No special prize for Prey's performance here, then, and chiefly non-essential Beethoven. As the album is not especially cheap - its previous incarnations are more likely to be found at a low price - downloading highlights would seem the more sensible course.
 
Byzantion
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk

Track-listing
CD 1
An die ferne Geliebte, op.98 [14:54]
8 Lieder, op.52 [22:11]
6 Lieder nach Gellert, op.48 [13:17]
6 Lieder, op.75 [15:41]
5 Lieder, op.82 [10:09] 

CD 2 

Adelaide, op.46 [6:07]
An die Hoffnung, op.32 [4:05]
3 Lieder, op.83 [6:36]
Das Glück der Freundschaft, op.88 [2:36]
An die Hoffnung, op.94 [7:21]
Der Mann von Wort, op.99 [3:23]
Merkenstein, op.100 [1:42]
Der Kuss, op.128 [1:51]
Hochzeitslied, WoO 105, "Auf Freunde, singt dem Gott der Ehen" [1:30]
Birthday Cantata for Prince Lobkowitz, WoO 106, "Es lebe unser theurer Furst" [2:00]
Schilderung eines Mädchens, WoO 107 [1:02]
An einen Säugling, WoO 108 [2:59]
Trinklied, WoO 109 [1:29]
Elegie auf den Tod eines Pudels, WoO 110 [5:12]
Punschlied, WoO 111 [0:51]
An Laura, WoO 112 [3:34]
Klage, WoO 113 [3:37]
Selbstgespräch, WoO 114 [3:05]
An Minna, WoO 115 [1:03]
Que le temps me dure, WoO 116 [3:54]
Der freie Mann, WoO 117 [1:45]
2 Songs, WoO 118]
Man strebt die Flamme zu verhehlen, WoO 120 [2:11] 

CD 3 

Abschiedsgesang an Wiens Bürger, WoO 121 [2:39]
Kriegslied der Österreicher, WoO 122 [3:15]
Zärtliche Liebe, WoO 123, "Ich liebe dich" [1:55]
La partenza, WoO 124 [1:01]
La tiranna, WoO 125 [2:47]
Opferlied, WoO 126 [3:13]
Plaisir d'aimer, WoO 128 [1:12]
Der Wachtelschlag, WoO 129 [3:37]
Gedenke mein, WoO 130 [1:39]
Als die Geliebte sich trennen wollte, WoO 132 [2:14]
In questa tomba oscura, WoO 133 [3:22]
Sehnsucht, WoO 134 [1:54]
Die laute Klage, WoO 135 [2:19]
Andenken, WoO 136 [3:10]
Lied aus der Ferne, WoO 137 [3:56]
Der Jüngling in der Fremde, WoO 138 [2:22]
Der Liebende, WoO 139 [2:26]
An die Geliebte, WoO 140 [2:16]
Der Gesang der Nachtigall, WoO 141 [1:23]
Der Bardengeist, WoO 142 [3:02]
Des Kriegers Abschied, WoO 143 [2:49]
Merkenstein, WoO 144 [3:31]
Das Geheimnis, WoO 145 [1:17]
Sehnsucht, WoO 146 [2:41]
Ruf vom Berge, WoO 147 [1:57]
So oder so, WoO 148 [1:56]
Resignation, WoO 149 [2:31]
Abendlied unterm gestirnten Himmel, WoO 150 [4:35]
Der edle Mensche sei hilfreich und gut, WoO 151 [0:36] 

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