Brahms: German Folksongs

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: German Folksongs
PERFORMER: Stephan Genz (baritone), Roger Vignoles (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-23700-2
The appearance in 1856 of a new edition of a German folksong anthology considered by Brahms to be indiscriminately compiled provoked him to bring out a collection of his own in 1894. His priorities lay not with authenticity; his own selections were governed by the sheer musical and aesthetic quality of the raw material and the opportunities it afforded for imaginative arrangement.

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So, in his Deutsche Volkslieder, Brahms practised the fine art of assimilation, blurring the lines between folksong and artsong in a way not at all dissimilar to what Britten would be doing for English folksong little more than 50 years later. Images and ambient sounds from the original folksongs find their way into Brahms’s ever-inventive piano accompaniments. A twisting tongue is matched by fingers imitating the pizzicato and spiccato of the violin in ‘Es wohnet ein Fiedler’; chaste chords bare the fate of poor Gunhilde, seduced by her father-confessor; and Brahms turns up the harmonic and rhythmic heat for ardent ditties about dark brown girls with rosy lips.

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Stephan Genz is a persuasive advocate of Brahms’s approach: his still youthful, lyrical baritone is ideally cast for the short lines, fleeting colours and keenly felt emotions of these 28 songs; and his close and instinctive partnership with pianist Roger Vignoles yields consistent pleasure. Hilary Finch