Canons and Musical Jokes – Graf, Graf, liebster Graf; Ars longa – vita brevis etc
Various Soloists; Ensemble Tamanial; Cantus Novus Wien/Thomas Homes
Naxos 8.574176 54:53 mins
In his anniversary year, the quest to record every note Beethoven wrote continues. This is the second recording of his canons and musical jokes in a few months, and that’s perhaps one more than they require.
Beethoven often scribbled snippets of music for friends and colleagues, whether as gifts or as appendages to letters. The conductor Thomas Holmes and his various Vienna performers give us a compilation of more than 50 of them, most of them less than a minute long. There are puns on the names of friends, and a couple of numbers comparing Beethoven’s erstwhile violin teacher to a donkey; others are more respectful greetings addressed to patrons, even as high up as Archduke Rudolph. Some are puzzle canons, where the recipient had to work out when and at what pitch a second voice might enter.
They are worth hearing as a curiosity, but ultimately these throwaway miniatures are more interesting on paper or in the mind than in the listening. Although the performances are aptly light-footed and the words clear, the singing often lacks the firmness and precision the pieces require. Naxos’s recording doesn’t make the voices sound well blended, and occasionally another take would have helped.