Haydn: Folksong Arrangements, Vol. 3: Scottish Songs for George Thomson III; Welsh Songs for George Thomson

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Brilliant
ALBUM TITLE: Haydn
WORKS: Folksong Arrangements, Vol. 3: Scottish Songs for George Thomson III; Welsh Songs for George Thomson
PERFORMER: Lorna Anderson (soprano), Jamie MacDougall (tenor); Haydn Trio Eisenstadt
CATALOGUE NO: 93059 (5 discs)
Brilliant Classics are issuing no less than six volumes of Haydn’s folk-song arrangements, of which this so far is the largest, with its five discs, though volume 5 may also be as large. It seems an odd idea for one of the greatest composers to have spent a considerable amount of time doing this relatively menial work, though the much prouder Beethoven did it too. Even more strangely, it was the melodies only which Haydn was sent, not the texts or even the titles of these songs – George Thomson, who sent Haydn the songs, oddly (to us) regarded words and music as quite independent entities – so he could hardly be blamed if his arrangements weren’t highly particularised. In fact, these were the last things that Haydn did, musically, with ill-health overtaking him as he worked, so that he farmed out quite a few of them to his pupil von Neukomm. Since the instrumentation is for piano trio and is modestly supportive, with fairly short refrains, it can’t have been too hard for von Neukomm to produce a plausible imitation of Haydn’s style.

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On these discs the songs are decently sung by soprano Lorna Anderson and tenor Jamie MacDougall, both of them coping courageously with the many dialect words which make some of the songs unintelligible without the extremely helpful annotations in the booklet. Footnotes explain that ‘sinsyne’ means ’since that time’, for instance, and there is a summary in German after each song. The words come from such writers as Burns and Walter Scott. The songs are rarely less than charming, and not often much more than that. But the odd touch of the great composer’s wit makes them worth listening to, and it’s hard to imagine this set being replaced. Michael Tanner