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Brahms: Volkslieder / Franui

Release Date: 03/10/2009 
Label:  Col Legno   Catalog #: 20302   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Markus Kraler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Franui
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The header is basically wrong in giving Johannes Brahms as composer of this programme. But since the real originators prefer this presentation - as can be seen on the cover above - I took the hint and listed this as a Brahms disc, which, I hope, will entice more readers to read the review. The liner-notes say explicitly ‘All music written by Markus Kraler/Andreas Schett (AKM) inspired (my italics) by Johannes Brahms’ Deutsche Volkslieder’. This tells us that this involves not just arrangements but compositions with an intrinsic value. Stravinsky’s adaptations of Pergolesi pieces for his Pulcinella ballet may be something similar but Kraler/Schett go one step further, as they have also done with Schubert.

So what do they do?
Read more They have picked twenty out of the 49 Deutsche Volkslieder and added Die Meere from Drei Duette für Sopran und Alt mit Klavier op. 20 and also, somewhat incongruously In der Fremde from Robert Schumann’s Liederkreis op 39. These themes have been employed rather freely. Sometimes two, even three are worked into the same piece and several of the themes return in more than one of the compositions. Rhythms are changed as are tempos. There is fragmentation and repetition and the orchestration is multifarious. In some of the pieces it isn’t easy to recognize the original themes at all. A majority of the pieces are vocal, mostly choral, and the original texts are also changed and/or minimized. Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund (My lass has a rosebud mouth) in the original becomes Mein Mädel had einen grossen Mund (My lass has a big mouth) and the full text reads – in free translation:

My lass she has so big a mouth
that when she speaks it hangs down south!

I can imagine two reactions to this treatment of more than century-old music. Those who, like me, have known the originals - which in themselves were rather artfully recast in comparison with the folk songs, themselves culled from Brentano’s collection which also was arranged - will either be horrified (I wasn’t) or exhilarated (I was). Those who are unfamiliar with the original Brahms arrangements will presumably derive a lot of pleasure from this disc anyway. For a deeper understanding of it I would recommend them to procure a set of the Brahms songs – I have adored the Schwarzkopf/Fischer-Dieskau recording on EMI since the mid-1960s. In the booklet for the present issue there is also a heading ‘Songs Used’ which lists all the Brahms (and Schumann) songs utilized and in which compositions they are employed.

Let me give a few examples of what the music is like. Ich will – allzeit –umsonst (tr. 1) which is an adaptation of the first song in Brahms’s collection Sagt mir, o schönste Schäf’rin mein the style is 1920s cabaret and the instrumentation is Weill-like. Dort hoch auf jenem Berge is a nod to the Tyrolean music. Komm, du mein Liebchen, komm is arranged in a way partly reminiscent of Gil Evans’s writing for Miles Davis’s tuba band. Erlaube mir feins Mädchen is a jazz waltz with a Johnny Hodges-like saxophone solo. Ach Gott, wie weh tut scheiden is a bleak minimalist composition, while Mein Mädel hat einen grossen Mund is a agglomeration of three songs and is played in the strutty manner of Spike Jones. The instrumental Bolero has the insistent rhythm we know from Ravel’s composition.

Other titles are soft and beautiful. Die Sonne scheint nicht mehr, which incorporates the Schumann song, is sweet-as-sugar, sung by angelic female voices. In stiller Nacht is a truly poetic nocturne. These random samples will, I hope, give an impression of the scope of this enterprise – in other words there is something for practically every taste.

The quality of the recording is superb, the playing and singing highly professional and performed with more than one twinkle in Franui’s collective eye. My wife, who isn’t very familiar with the Brahms songs, came down flop when she heard the disc. I suspect it will be a frequent visitor to our CD-player during our after-dinner musical séances on Saturday evenings.

-- Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Brahms Volkslieder by Markus Kraler
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Franui

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