Listening to Beethoven #35 – An Laura


Peanuts comic strip, drawn by Charles M. Schulz (c)PNTS

An Laura WoO 112 for voice and piano (1790-92, Beethoven aged 21)

Dedication not known
Text Friedrich von Matthisson
Duration 3’40”

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Background and Critical Reception

A note on this song from the Beethoven-Haus museum in Bonn tells us that Friedrich Matthisson first published this poem in 1785 in Hamburg, under the title An Serena. In 1787 however the poem appeared unchanged in the first edition of Matthisson’s poems, under the new title An Laura.

Beethoven’s setting followed soon after – maybe as little as three years – and only the first and third verses were written out under the music in the autograph score. This is taken as an indication that the first part was to be repeated for the second verse.

Thoughts

The message from this song is positive to begin with, joyful even – and the soprano line carries nicely above flowing piano accompaniment. Beethoven gets quite chromatic with the melody towards the end of the first two verses, before a change of mood in the central section heightens the drama.

After that brief aside we return to the music of the opening, if not the mood – a scene at the grave casting a shadow over proceedings. It is as though Schubert and Mahler are waiting in the wings at this point.

Recordings used

Pamela Coburn (soprano), Leonard Hokanson (piano) (Capriccio)

Peter Schreier (tenor), Gisela Franke (piano) (Brilliant Classics)

Pamela Coburn brings a relatively rich soprano line to this song. Peter Schreier is a fair bit quicker, pushing the melody along.

Spotify links

Pamela Coburn, Leonard Hokanson

Peter Schreier, Gisela Franke

Also written in 1792 Sterkel 3 Violin Sonatas, StWV 198

Next up 14 Variations in E flat major Op.44

Listening to Beethoven #34 – Punschlied


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Punschlied WoO 110 for voice, choir and piano (1790-92, Beethoven aged 21)

Dedication not known
Text Anonymous
Duration ’50”

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Background and Critical Reception

This is another example of Beethoven setting a ‘Gesellschaftslied’ – a public form of the song, but in this case thought to be for private consumption. It is another drinking song, setting its anonymous text with a similar structure to the previous Trinklied.

A florid piano introduction brings in the singer, who encourages each of his friends to drink the punch as it goes round the room. The choral response is emphatic: ‘Wir trinken alle hocherfreut, so lang uns Punsch die Kumme beut’ (‘We’ll surely stay a merry bunch, as long as our cups stay full of punch!’)

Thoughts

This is a good complement to the Trinklied – and is pretty much the next gulp from the flagon, with high spirits and good cheer! For a second time Beethoven reads his room well, leading the festivities with music of celebration.

Recordings used

Hermann Prey (baritone), Heinrich Schütz-Kreis Berlin, Leonard Hokanson (piano)

Peter Schreier (tenor), Gisela Franke (piano)

Once again Hermann Prey is on fine form, with sprightly piano playing from Leonard Hokanson and a fulsome choir. They eclipse Peter Schreier’s slightly higher version, which lacks a choir and cuts out the piano introduction.

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Hermann Prey, Heinrich Schütz-Kreis Berlin, Leonard Hokanson

Peter Schreier, Gisela Franke

Also written in 1792 Méhul Stratonice

Next up An Laura WoO 112

Listening to Beethoven #33 – Trinklied


Peanuts comic strip, drawn by Charles M. Schulz (c)PNTS

Trinklied WoO 109 for voice, choir and piano (1790-92, Beethoven aged 21)

Dedication not known
Text Anonymous
Duration 1’30”

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Background and Critical Reception

In her essay on Beethoven as a song composer for Deutsche Grammophon’s Beethoven: The New Complete Edition, Helga Lühning notes how ‘there was no period during his creative life where he did not explore the field of vocal music and write for the human voice’.

She writes how Lieder was the prime form of expression, but that Beethoven also turned to the ‘Gesellschaftslied’, the public form of the song. A typical example of the form would be for a soloist to sing the verse and a choir to respond with a chorus.

The Trinklied is the first of one of these settings, a drinking song with an anonymous text encouraging ‘Erhebt das Glas mit froher Hand und trinkt euch heitren Mut’ (‘Raise your glass with a glad hand and drink your hearty courage’)

Thoughts

A playful piano introduction trips down the stairs before a lusty bellow from the bass encourages everyone in the room to raise their glasses. Beethoven has the measure of the crowd, with everyone included in the enthusiastic response! Then it’s no doubt straight on to the next song…and drink…

Recordings used

Hermann Prey (baritone), Heinrich Schütz-Kreis Berlin, Leonard Hokanson (piano)

Peter Schreier (tenor), Gisela Franke (piano)

Hermann Prey is in very good voice here, and the choir respond with full bodied tones. Peter Schreier’s tenor version, set a good deal higher in pitch, is a little more chaste, and there is no choir to back him up. That said, his brighter tone rings out clearly.

Spotify links

Hermann Prey, Heinrich Schütz-Kreis Berlin, Leonard Hokanson

Peter Schreier, Gisela Franke

Also written in 1792 Haydn 150 Scottish Songs, Hob.XXXIa:1–150

Next up Punschlied WoO 110

On record – Alexander Tcherepnin: My Flowering Staff (Toccata Classics)

Alexander Tcherepnin My Flowering Staff (1912-13)

Inna Dukach (soprano), Tatyana Kebuladze (piano), with Paul Whelan (bass) Acmeist Male Choir

Toccata Classics TOCC0537 [57’55”] Russian (Cyrillic) text and translation included

Producer/Engineer Jeremy Gerard

Recorded 21-23 June 2017, 29 December 2018 and 4 January 2019 at the Gurari Studios, National Opera Center, New York City

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics comes up with another first in My Flowering Staff, a song-cycle of almost an hour’s length by Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977), most of whose content was divided across three separate collections and has only now been returned to its original conception.

What’s the music like?

His reputation established initially through his piano music (a representative selection from which, including several archival recordings by the composer, can be found on TOCC0079), Tcherepnin worked intensively on setting this volume of lyrics by Sergei Gorodetsky (1884-1967) during 1920-21, before he summarily abandoned the project with three texts awaiting music. Instead, he published 24 of these songs – albeit to French translation – as his Opp. 15, 16 and 17, then never returned to the song format on such a scale. The other songs remained unheard until 2018, by which time the original Russian texts of the published items had been restored and the undeniable ambition of Tcherepnin’s vision could be more readily adduced.

Not that adducing such a vision is therefore straightforward. Gorodetsky may have reined-in his more abstruse symbolism when he penned these 38 lyrics during 1912-13, but a tendency towards inward communing is seldom far away and it could be precisely this obscurity which attracted Tcherepnin in the first instance; enabling him to align his own preoccupations with the passage from youth to maturity, and from innocence to experience, with the poet’s own ruminations. Anyone expecting a continuity of narrative akin to the song-cycles of Schubert will only be disappointed, yet the fervency of Tcherepnin’s approach is its own justification.

Stylistically, too, these songs exude those attributes of inward ecstasy and ominous anxiety as Tcherepnin’s older contemporaries had previously found in this poet. Vocal lines tend toward the declamatory and have recourse to a wide compass, while the piano writing is harmonically questing without becoming congested or unidiomatic (hence the imposing solo that precedes the 22nd poem) – a consequence of his mastery over this instrument whether as composer or performer. The expressive ambit is opened-out with a setting of the 16th poem for bass and (optional) male chorus, while the overall cycle is framed by an Epigraph and Epilogue which distil those qualities of yearning and fulfilment that dominate the cycle as a whole. Whether Tcherepnin thought its execution to have fallen short of its ambition cannot now be answered.

Does it all work?

Almost, though it is not always easy to perceive the formal trajectory Tcherepnin was intent on pursuing or to what expressive end it was directed. That said, the omitted songs are quite the equal of those he did publish and to hear them all in sequence affords its own fascination. It helps when Inna Dukach renders the overall cycle with just the right alternation of plangent rhetoric or confiding intimacy and receives astute accompaniment from Tatyana Kebuladze. Nor are Paul Whelan and Acmeist Male Choir found wanting in their solitary contribution.

Is it recommended?

Yes, given the conviction of this performance and excellence of recorded sound. Benjamin Folkman’s detailed annotations go a long way to elucidating Tcherepnin’s conception, while Dina Dukach’s English translation similarly clarifies many aspects of Gorodetsky’s musings.

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You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording.

On record – Vaughan Jones & Marcus Price: History of the Salon – Morceaux caractéristiques 1823-1913 (First Hand)

d’Ambrosio Sérénade in D major Op.4 (1897); Aria Op. 22 (1903)
Braga La Serenata (1867 arr. Pollitzer)
Drdla Serenade no.1 in A major (1901)
Godard Canzonetta Op.35/3 (1876, arr. composer)
Granados Oriental Op.37/2 (1890, arr. Jones)
Hollander Mazurek in E major Op.25 (1898)
Laub Canzonetta in B minor Op.12/1 (1884)
Moszkowski Mélodie in F major Op.18/1 (1879, arr. Hermann); Guitarre in G major Op.45/2 (1890, arr. Sarasate)
Paganini Cantabile e Valzer Op.19 (1823)
Raff Méditation in A major Op.75/5 (1859, arr. Hermann); Cavatina in D major Op.85/3 (1862)
F. A. Schubert Bagatelles Op.13 (1860) – nos. 3, 4, 5 (Le désir), no. 9 (L’abeille), no.12 (Barcarola)
Sgambati Serenata napoletana Op.24/2 (1891)
Spohr Barcarole in G major Op.135/1 (1848)
Vecsey Valse triste in C minor (1913)
Zarzycki Mazurkas – no.1 in G major Op.26 (1884); no.2 in E major Op.39 (1894)

Vaughan Jones (violin); Marcus Price (piano)

First Hand Records FHR95 [82’50”]

Producer & Engineer John Croft

Recorded 27, 28 & 30 December 2019, Plumcroft Primary School, London

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Vaughan Jones continues a productive association with First Hand Records on this generous selection of encores from the golden age of the violin virtuoso, skillfully programmed so as to present composers often regarded as ‘one hit wonders’ in a more rounded and inclusive light.

What’s the music like?

One of the chief attractions is Jones’s bringing together the established with the unfamiliar – so the programme features not only Aleksander Zarzycki’s vibrantly assertive First Mazurka, but also its seldom revived and no less characterful successor. Earliest of those unashamedly public virtuosos, Niccoló Paganini is represented by music of an elegance and finesse by no means foreign to his persona; with the comparable expressive range of Alfredo d’Ambrosio as evident in his lilting Sérénade as in his sombrely musing Aria. Enjoying modest revival, Moritz Moszkowski contributes the languid Mélodie but also the indelible élan of his Guitarre.

Benjamin Godard remains one for whom quantity is not always synonymous with quality, but this arrangement from his Concerto romantique yields a winning insouciance. The inclusion of Joachim Raff’s emotive Cavatina was to be expected, but that of his aptly subtitled Après le coucher du Soleil is an unexpected and affecting pleasure. The name of František Drdla is securely kept alive by the appealing whimsy of his contribution, as is that of Gaetano Braga by the wistful eloquence and finely drawn contrast of his Angel’s Serenade. Whether or not his name is wholly responsible for his latter-day obscurity, Franz Anton (François) Schubert was evidently a skillful composer – hence these five out of 12 Bagatelles such as reference a subtle range of moods on route to the animated L’abeille then the ruminative Barcarola.

The stealthy virtuosity evinced by Giovanni Sgambati sounds anything but mindless, while the taciturn charm conjured by Ferdinand Laub makes plain why his musicianship was held in such high esteem by Tchaikovsky. The incisive wit and technical agility of Benoit (Benno) Hollander is everywhere apparent, as too is the winsome and (at least as rendered here) never unduly saccharine charm of Louis Spohr. Nor does the ‘heart on sleeve’ immediacy of Franz von Vecsey fall victim to false sentiment, whereas the second (and not necessarily the most immediately appealing) out of those dozen pieces that comprise Enrique Granados’s Danzas españolas brings the whole programme to a warmly and thoughtfully understated conclusion.

Does it all work?

Yes, and not only on account of Vaughan Jones’s astute sense of programming. Throughout this lengthy yet always engaging miscellany, his playing eschews mere showiness in favour of a discipline and focus which ensure that even the most obvious ‘war-horses’ emerge newly minted. It also helps when the pianism of Marcus Price is consistently attentive to the subtle variations of mood and expression as are contained herein, while the balance between violin and piano could hardly be improved upon in terms of its definition and overall perspective.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. Special praise for a booklet which features the violinist’s finely researched notes and is designed to resemble a programme as might have been encountered at a recital during this period. Clearly FHR’s production values are no less conscientious than Jones’s musicianship.

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You can discover more about this release at the First Hand Records website, where you can also purchase the recording.