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Briefly Noted: Gerhaher's Burr

available at Amazon
FolksLied (folk song arrangements by Haydn, Beethoven, Britten), C. Gerhaher, A. Barachovsky, S. Klinger, G. Huber

(released on March 11, 2016)
BR-Klassik 900131 | 53'33"
Christian Gerhaher continues to surprise. The German baritone, an Ionarts favorite for his authoritative renditions of Lieder, has released this new live recording of a recital of folk song arrangements by Haydn, Britten, and Beethoven, unfortunately with applause kept after some tracks. As the booklet essay by Bernhard Neuhoff acknowledges, the concept of just what we mean when we say "folk song" is a complicated matter. The difference between a living folk song and the version of that music when written down like an art song is akin to that between a butterfly on the wind and the dead specimen carefully pinned and mounted by a lepidopterist. Some of the tunes set by these composers were modified or outright composed by those who "collected" them.

The macaronic title of the disc, FolksLied refers to the fact that all of the folk tunes heard here are from the British Isles, set by German, Austrian, and English composers, some with German texts and some in English and other insular dialects. Haydn's Schottische und Walisische Lieder and Beethoven's 25 Schottische Lieder, op. 108, are for voice accompanied by piano trio. Gerhaher and his usual collaborator, pianist Gerold Huber, are joined by cellist Sebastian Klinger and violinist Anton Barachovsky, both principal musicians from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Haydn composed his Scottish and Welsh songs working from the tunes only, without the original words, and here Gerhaher has followed tenor Fritz Wunderlich in singing them to German texts published in 1927 by Bernhard Engelke, poems that had nothing to do with the original tunes, many by nature poet Hermann Löns.

Gerhaher digs most deeply into the settings by Britten, which have the most interesting harmonic palette, after singing quite lightly in the Haydn songs. In his program note, Gerhaher admits that he was trying to imitate the sound of Wunderlich in those songs, as an acknowledgment of his debt to that earlier singer. Gerhaher's English pronunciation is quite good in the Beethoven and Britten songs, having particular fun in the drinking song "Come fill, my good fellow," where it sound likes someone has added a faint descant voice (not credited). Gerhaher even attempts the Scots dialect of Robert Burns's "Ca' the Yowes to the Knowes" in the Britten setting, down to the evocatively guttural R's (embedded below). As mentioned before, the whole Ionarts household went with my parents last summer back to Stirling, at the cusp of the Scottish Highlands, where the trail of genealogical research ended with our earliest Downey ancestors in the 16th century. Like the architecture that still stands in Stirling where those first Downeys walked, these Scottish songs make me dream of the land they left behind.


Janet said...

The descant is Gerold Huber. Part of the recording session was captured in the German documentary film about Gerhaher, and you can see Huber exuberantly singing as he plays.

Charles T. Downey said...

So I would have guessed: thanks for confirming!