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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Folk Songs
Paula Sophie Bohnet (soprano)
Daniel Johannsen (tenor)
Georg Klimbacher (baritone)
Josef Herzer (violin)
Bertin Christelbauer (cello)
Bernadette Bartos (piano)
rec. 2019, 4tune audio production, Vienna
Sung texts included.
NAXOS 8.574174 [73:33]

During the end of the 18th century, continuing well into the next century, there was a growing interest in folk music and folk poetry. In Britain Scottish songs and ballads, but also Irish and Welch, were seen as suitably exotic and there grew up a need from the common people to perform the songs in their homes and elsewhere. To fill this need a certain George Thomson turned to Vienna for help, initially to Haydn’s pupil Pleyel and later to Haydn himself to provide for amateurs surmountable arrangements. Haydn was commissioned to deliver a large number of arrangements; between 1791 and 1804 he wrote more than 400 for Thomson and a couple of other publishers. But when Father Haydn called it a day Thomson instead turned to Beethoven. He was in urgent need of money – and writing these arrangements was a lucrative business. But there was a hang-up: Beethoven refused to lower himself to the amateurish level Thomson wanted, so what he delivered was on an artistic level far above the intended. Still their business relation continued until 1819, and with hindsight we should be grateful that Beethoven persisted. Between 1809 and 1820 he wrote no less than 179 folksong arrangements! The majority of them were scored for voice(s) and piano trio. It should be mentioned that not all the melodies are ‘real’ folk songs, nor are all the texts genuine folk poetry. There are even on this disc poems by Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.

I’m not going to analyse each and every individual song, but give a general description of the oeuvre. Firstly this is a very varied programme with slow and lively, jolly and sad songs in a charming mix. The melodies are easy to digest and since the songs are strophic – sometimes with many stanzas – the tunes stick. The arrangements are also very varied, sometimes with fairly extended introductions and postludes and in many cases quite elaborated ritornellos. Beethoven often reworked his arrangements and almost all the songs on this disc exist in at least two versions. Two of the songs are performed in both versions, The Maid of Isla (text Walter Scott) (tr. 7 & 8) and the lively and fun Bonny Laddie, Highland Laddie (tr. 9 & 10). Four of the songs are duet (tr. 1, 3, 6 & 13), one song (tr. 2) is performed with piano only as accompaniment and then there are two melodies that are performed as piano trios without singing (tr. 16 & 17) – two charming pieces that should be lovely encores at a chamber music concert. One song stands out from the rest: Una Paloma blanca from 29 Songs of Various Nationality (tr. 19). Sung in Spanish it is full of joy sung with a lot of embellishments and a swinging accompaniment and it is all over in one minute. Of the singers the heaviest burden is carried by soprano Paula Sophie Bohnet, who is allotted 11 songs, including all four duets, tenor Daniel Johannsen takes part in six of the songs, three of those are duets, and baritone Georg Klimbacher has four solos in a row (tr. 7-10) and one duet. None of the soloists are native English speakers but they sound utterly idiomatic, and all three have very attractive voices and sing with both beauty of tone and great expressiveness. The professionalism of the instrumentalists is very obvious and both playing and singing is apparently inspired.

Picking favourite numbers is no easy task. I would rather say that the overall experience is greater than the sum of the individual parts, but I greatly enjoyed the beautiful Faithfu’ Johnie (tr. 11), so exquisitely sung by Paula Sophie Bohnet, and also expressive reading of Walter Scott’s tragic and sad On the Massacre of Glencoe (tr. 18). Georg Klimbacher’s spirited versions of Bonny Laddie, Highland Laddie (tr. 9 & 10) is another highlight and Daniel Johannsen’s lyrical legato singing in When far from the home (tr. 20) is also something to savour.

I have a feeling that these folk song arrangements are fairly little known, but they are definitely worth investigating. All in all a wholly delightful programme, excellently performed.

Göran Forsling

Irish Songs II, WoO 153
1. No. 44. Sunshine, Hess 178 (1815) [2:50]
26 Welsh Songs, WoO 155
2. No. 19. The Vale of Clwyd (1st version, Hess 191) (c. 1810) [4:37]
Irish Songs II, WoO 153
3. No. 30. I dream’d I lay (2nd version) (1812/13) [2:38]
4. No. 41. I’ll praise the saints (1st version, Hess 196)) (1810) [6:08]
5. No. 49. ‘T is but in vain (2nd version) (1812/13) [4:09]
6. No. 48. Oh! Would I were (1st version, Hess 198) (1812) [4:31]
25 Scottish Songs, Op. 108
7. No. 4. The Maid of Isla (2nd version, Hess 200) (1817/18) [2:29]
8. No. 4. The Maid of Isla (1st version, Hess 200) (1817) [2:28]
9. No. 7. Bonny Laddie, Highland Laddie (2nd version with revised violin part, Hess 201) (1817/18) [2:00]
10. No. 7. Bonny Laddie, Highland Laddie (1st version with original violin part, Hess 201) (1815) [1:55]
11. No. 20. Faithfu’ Johnie (1st version, Hess 203) (1810) [6:15]
26 Welsh Songs, WoO 155
12. No. 7. O let the night my blushes hide (2nd discarded version, Hess 204) (1810) [3:52]
13. No. 14. The Dream (1st version, Hess 205) (c. 1810) [5:15]
14. No. 20. To the Blackbird (1st version, Hess 206) (1810) [4:40]
25 Scottish Songs, Op. 108
15. No. 11. Oh! Thou art the lad of my heart (1st version, Hess 202) (1815) [2:06]
Irish Songs III, WoO 154 (1810-15)
16. No. 60. Lament for Owen Roe O’Neill [2:30]
17. No. 62. Castle O’Neill [2:21]
Irish Songs I, WoO 152
18. No. 5. On the Massacre of Glencoe (1st version) (1810) [6:28]
29 Songs of Various Nationality, WoO 158
19. No. 19. Una Paloma blanca (1st version, Gardi 25) (1816) [1:00]
Irish Songs II, WoO 153
20. No. 40. When far from the home (alternative version, Hess 195) (1813) [4:13]

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