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Bauman
American Record Guide, October 2006

Kraus lived only a few months more than Mozart but hasn't been so well known, because he spent much of his creative life in Sweden. Naxos has chosen to give us his complete songs written in German but has wisely pretty much alternated between a soprano and a baritone so that there is no vocal monotony. The mood of the songs is quite varied, and they make for very pleasant listening. There is a fair amount of vocal acting here, too. I listened to this two days in a row and enjoyed it more the second time. Both vocalists sing very well. Both are native Germans, so the language is no problem for them. Glen Wilson is an American pianist in his 50s who has a career in Europe. The recording is outstanding, as are the notes. This is a real "sleeper".



Bauman
American Record Guide, October 2006

Kraus lived only a few months more than Mozart but hasn't been so well known, because he spent much of his creative life in Sweden. Naxos has chosen to give us his complete songs written in German but has wisely pretty much alternated between a soprano and a baritone so that there is no vocal monotony. The mood of the songs is quite varied, and they make for very pleasant listening. There is a fair amount of vocal acting here, too. I listened to this two days in a row and enjoyed it more the second time. Both vocalists sing very well. Both are native Germans, so the language is no problem for them. Glen Wilson is an American pianist in his 50s who has a career in Europe. The recording is outstanding, as are the notes. This is a real "sleeper".



Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, August 2006

Naxos have already done sterling service to Joseph Martin Kraus with their recordings of his symphonies (see review of Volume 4) and his piano music (see review). Now we have a recording of all of his song settings of German texts. Kraus – whose life was almost coterminous with that of Mozart – was himself a man of letters as well as of music. After false starts as a student at the universities of Mainz and Erfurt, he attended the university in Göttingen. Though ostensibly studying law, the young Kraus became more and more involved in poetry and music. Before he was twenty he had published a verse tragedy (Tolon) and a collection of poems (Versuch von Schäfersgedichte), as well as writing a number of pieces of sacred music, including a Requiem. While at Göttingen he became a member of the literary group known as the Göttinger Hainbund (the ‘Göttingen Grove’), made up of a number of young poets including J.H. Voss, Ludwig Hölty and the Stolberg brothers, which was apparently formed during a moonlit walk one night in 1772! As a group they were amongst what one might regard as the anticipators of romanticism, keen on German folk traditions and the poetry of nature and sentiment. Kraus committed himself more fully to music, and soon wrote a book, Etwas von und über Musik furs Jahr 1777, in which his sympathies for the Sturm und Drang and the growing energies of the movement that was to become German Romanticism were clear. Both his early-Romantic sensibility and the educated responsiveness of his knowledge of poetry are evident in this collection of Kraus’s songs. There is one song (‘Das Rosenband’) setting words by Friedrich Klopstock, one of the major influences on the Göttinger Hainbund; there are no less than thirteen settings of poems by Matthias Claudius, whose simplicity of manner (and often of subject) was much admired by the young poets with whom Kraus mixed. Claudius was to remain popular with composers; indeed four of the poems by Claudius which were set by Kraus – ‘Die Henne’, ‘Ich bin vergnügt’, ‘An eine Quelle’ and ‘Phidile’ – were later set by Schubert. There are three settings of poems by Alois Blumauer, the poet set by Mozart in his ‘Lied der Freiheit’. There are also two settings of Kraus’s own words. Compare one of Kraus’s settings with Schubert’s of the same text and – not surprisingly – one becomes aware of the limitations. But one is also made aware of the ways in which Kraus’s work genuinely anticipates that of the later master, more so, for example, than is the case with Mozart’s songs. Kraus’s melodies are rarely particularly memorable, but they are always very sympathetic to their texts; he has that skill at the rapid creation of a convincing protagonist that is one of the hallmarks of the best composers of songs. ‘Der Abschied’ (one of the songs which sets words by Kraus himself) easily sustains interest over its seven minutes, a grand, quasi-operatic exploration of Norse mythology; very different is the comedy and pseudo-folksiness of the setting of ‘Die Henne’. There is homely charm in ‘Die Mutter bei der Wiege’ and a moving dignity in ‘An – als ihm die – starb’. Kraus’s range is, in other words, pretty wide, and all of these songs are accomplished and engaging. Birgid Steinberger characterises her songs very well and sings with clarity and grace; Martin Hummel sometimes over-characterises and his voice is not, for my tastes, particularly ingratiating. Glen Wilson does an admirable job as accompanist; I have followed Naxos in listing his instrument as a piano, but it is surely a fortepiano? Keith Anderson’s well-informed and perceptive notes don’t anywhere seem to explain that the VB numbers which identify Kraus’s works are to be found in Bertil van Boer’s Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1792): a systematic-thematic catalogue of his musical works and source study (1998). Full texts and translations are available from the Naxos website. This is a CD which in any one interested in the history of the German lied will surely want to hear; admirers of Schubert should find it of considerable interest.



Goran Forsling
MusicWeb International, August 2006

Whose 250th anniversary is celebrated this year? No prize for a correct answer – but there is another composer also worthy of celebration. Joseph Martin Kraus was born the same year as Wolfgang Amadeus and survived him by one year. While Mozart was active in the musical and cultural centres of Europe, Joseph Martin, although born and trained in Germany, spent a great deal of his adult life in then underdeveloped and forbidding Sweden. It is true that during the reign of King Gustavus III, Stockholm at least was beginning to develop. The king imported actors, composers and designers from Europe and had a new opera house built (opened 1782). Kraus was sent abroad to learn from the greats of the period, thus he met Gluck and Salieri in Vienna and even visited Esterháza and saw Haydn. During the late 1780s he was Court Kapellmeister in Stockholm and wrote music for both theatre and concert purposes. In March 1792 Gustavus III was murdered during that infamous masked ball, the setting of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. He wrote the touching funeral music for the king but six months later he too was dead of tuberculosis. Now it seems that the world has started to realize his greatness. Today quite a lot of his music is available on disc and not only from Swedish companies. The funeral music and his string quartets exist in excellent recordings on Musica Sveciae. His opera Soliman II was recorded in the early 1990s by Virgin. The real break-through came a few years ago when Naxos - who else? - launched a complete series of his symphonies. In toto four discs were issued with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra under Petter Sundkvist. All of them were critically acclaimed and should definitely be heard by anyone with an interest in 18th century music. His keyboard music has also been issued by Naxos and now come his German songs. Kraus wrote quite a number of songs in six different languages: Danish, Dutch, German, Italian, French and Swedish. For the German ones he chose verses showing "the influence of the poets of the Göttingen Hainbund and those associated with or admired by members of the league". Keith Anderson tells us in his as usual excellent liner notes that half of the poems are by Matthias Claudius, whose verses were also set by Schubert. Many of the songs are strophic and quite simple but there are also some through-composed examples which show his dramatic ability. In general these are agreeable efforts, melodic, easy on the ear and quite often with a personal twist. Listening through them all in one sitting never gave a feeling of monotony since there is enough variety. Some of them have a folksy character, e.g. the dialogue Hans und Hanne (track 20). Das schwarze Lieschen aus Kastilien (track 16) has a really catchy tune. An eine Quelle (track 21) is built in long legato phrases over a quicker accompaniment. A few of the songs are settings of Kraus’s own texts, e.g. Der Abschied (track 9), the longest of the songs at seven-plus minutes. About halfway through, the mood changes, becomes darker and the piano part sounds almost Schubertian. Ein Lied um Regen (track 13) is a prayer for rain during a dry period and the piano underlines the text by giving an impression of drizzle. Die Henne (track 2), which starts like the old La Folia, is a through-composed comic scene with lively characterisation. Martin Hummel makes the most of the opportunities, adopting an intentionally crude, "un-schooled" and un-sophisticated singing style. Elsewhere he uses his ordinary Lieder voice, a light and nimble baritone. These are well thought through interpretations. He even excels in a whistle in Die Welt nach Rousseau (track 10). The songs are of a type that should not be sung by operatic voices.



Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, July 2006

Naxos have already done sterling service to Joseph Martin Kraus with their recordings of his symphonies (see review of Volume 4) and his piano music (see review). Now we have a recording of all of his song settings of German texts. Kraus – whose life was almost coterminous with that of Mozart – was himself a man of letters as well as of music. After false starts as a student at the universities of Mainz and Erfurt, he attended the university in Göttingen. Though ostensibly studying law, the young Kraus became more and more involved in poetry and music. Before he was twenty he had published a verse tragedy (Tolon) and a collection of poems (Versuch von Schäfersgedichte), as well as writing a number of pieces of sacred music, including a Requiem. While at Göttingen he became a member of the literary group known as the Göttinger Hainbund (the ‘Göttingen Grove’), made up of a number of young poets including J.H. Voss, Ludwig Hölty and the Stolberg brothers, which was apparently formed during a moonlit walk one night in 1772! As a group they were amongst what one might regard as the anticipators of romanticism, keen on German folk traditions and the poetry of nature and sentiment. Kraus committed himself more fully to music, and soon wrote a book, Etwas von und über Musik furs Jahr 1777, in which his sympathies for the Sturm und Drang and the growing energies of the movement that was to become German Romanticism were clear. Both his early-Romantic sensibility and the educated responsiveness of his knowledge of poetry are evident in this collection of Kraus’s songs. There is one song (‘Das Rosenband’) setting words by Friedrich Klopstock, one of the major influences on the Göttinger Hainbund; there are no less than thirteen settings of poems by Matthias Claudius, whose simplicity of manner (and often of subject) was much admired by the young poets with whom Kraus mixed. Claudius was to remain popular with composers; indeed four of the poems by Claudius which were set by Kraus – ‘Die Henne’, ‘Ich bin vergnügt’, ‘An eine Quelle’ and ‘Phidile’ – were later set by Schubert. There are three settings of poems by Alois Blumauer, the poet set by Mozart in his ‘Lied der Freiheit’. There are also two settings of Kraus’s own words. Compare one of Kraus’s settings with Schubert’s of the same text and – not surprisingly – one becomes aware of the limitations. But one is also made aware of the ways in which Kraus’s work genuinely anticipates that of the later master, more so, for example, than is the case with Mozart’s songs. Kraus’s melodies are rarely particularly memorable, but they are always very sympathetic to their texts; he has that skill at the rapid creation of a convincing protagonist that is one of the hallmarks of the best composers of songs. ‘Der Abschied’ (one of the songs which sets words by Kraus himself) easily sustains interest over its seven minutes, a grand, quasi-operatic exploration of Norse mythology; very different is the comedy and pseudo-folksiness of the setting of ‘Die Henne’. There is homely charm in ‘Die Mutter bei der Wiege’ and a moving dignity in ‘An – als ihm die – starb’. Kraus’s range is, in other words, pretty wide, and all of these songs are accomplished and engaging. Birgid Steinberger characterises her songs very well and sings with clarity and grace; Martin Hummel sometimes over-characterises and his voice is not, for my tastes, particularly ingratiating. Glen Wilson does an admirable job as accompanist; I have followed Naxos in listing his instrument as a piano, but it is surely a fortepiano? Keith Anderson’s well-informed and perceptive notes don’t anywhere seem to explain that the VB numbers which identify Kraus’s works are to be found in Bertil van Boer’s Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1792): a systematic-thematic catalogue of his musical works and source study (1998). Full texts and translations are available from the Naxos website. This is a CD which in any one interested in the history of the German lied will surely want to hear; admirers of Schubert should find it of considerable interest.






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5:07:39 AM, 21 September 2014
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