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Beethoven: Gegenliebe – Lieder

Daniel Behle (tenor), Jan Schultsz (piano) (Pan Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Beethoven
Gegenliebe – Songs
Daniel Behle (tenor), Jan Schultsz (piano)
Pan Classics PC10433   75:48 mins

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There’s a certain irony in titling an all-Beethoven song disc Gegenliebe, or ‘Requited Love’. Beethoven, after all, was no stranger to love’s unrequited manifestation. The triumph of hope over experience has nonetheless long bewitched the composers of Lieder, and Daniel Behle’s survey encounters the composer at both ends of a song output that so often remains undervalued aside from Adelaide or the genre’s first cyclic masterpiece: An die ferne Geliebte. They’re both included, as are Beethoven’s first excursion into setting English (the canzonetta’s second verse luring Behle uncharacteristically into a slightly self-conscious Gothicism); a sprinkling of Goethe songs – ‘Maigesang’ brimming with springtime wonder, not to mention a spryly dashing account of ‘Es war einmal ein König’; and the disc’s title song, dating from the mid 1790s but destined to find its way into the Op. 80 Choral Fantasia.

Possessed of an innate lyricism Behle is an ideal exponent, never tempted to over-egg the simplicity of early songs, while the opera singer within is ever-alert to Beethoven’s wider-ranging concerns – the gnarly heroism of ‘Der Wachtelschlag’ to the more sacredly subdued restraint of the two Op. 48 Gellert settings. ‘Adelaide’, meanwhile, sounds a paean to eternal longing, the name caressed at the end of each stanza, the ardour beautifully modulated. Jan Schultsz’s Viennese piano, dating from the last years of Beethoven’s life, won’t always persuade fans of the modern concert grand, but it yields some fruitily fulsome tremolandos in the Caspari-setting ‘In questa tomba oscura’. Behle’s diction is impeccable, yet the lack of text translations is still a lamentable oversight.

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Paul Riley