Beethoven: Folksongs

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Folksongs
PERFORMER: Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone)Trio Fontenay
CATALOGUE NO: 442 784-2
It was the Scottish folksong enthusiast George Thomson who persuaded Beethoven to devote an appreciable amount of time over the years 1809-20 to making 176 arrangements of national airs from various parts of the British Isles. Haydn and Weber were Thomson’s other most distinguished catches. Judging by their quality, Beethoven seems to have enjoyed himself with these arrangements. The scoring, for voice (occasionally two) and piano, with optional violin and cello, presented congenial possibilities in texture and colour, while the melodies themselves, like all the best folk tunes, combine an individual flavour with an effortless perfection of structure.

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Though Beethoven’s arrangements do place these outdoor originals in drawing-room dress, as they were intended to, the many distinctive touches of compositional ingenuity he applies more than compensate for any loss of rural rawness. We hear a selection of 20 songs from Scotland, Ireland and Wales, including many outright winners.

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Wolfgang Holzmair attacks them with a graceful tone and genuine musicality, happily duetting with himself where required (the wonders of double tracking!). Where he falls down is in his English diction, which is rarely idiomatic. Without the texts in front of me, I might never have guessed, in places, what language he was singing. George Hall