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MGB Records (Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund)

S’sch mr alles 1 Ding – Ver-rückte Volksliedarrangements
Swiss-German Folksong Arrangements

Traditional arr. Javier HAGEN – Meitäli, wenn du witt go tanzä; S’isch mer alles ei Ding; O du liäbs Ängeli; Vo Lozern uf Wäggis zu; Auf der Alpen lichten Höhen; Es Buurebüebli; Lüegid vo Bärg und Tal; Die Blümenlein, sie schlafen; Am Brunnen vor dem Tore; Sah ein Knab ein Röslein stehn; Hab oft im Kreise der Lieben; O Tannenbaum; De See lyt scho i Schatte; Hopp, hopp, hopp; In einem kühlen Grunde; S’isch äbe ne Mönsch ur Ärde; Wenn eine tannigi Hose hett; Im Aargäu sind zwäi Libi; Es wott es Froueli z’Märit; Alli miini Äntli; Dornröschen war ein schönes Kind; Hänsel und Gretel; Guten Abend, gut’Nacht; Weisst du, wivel Sternlein stehen
VOX Vokalquartett (Claudia Dieterle – Soprano, Alexandra Forster – Alto, Javier Hagen – Tenor, Norber Günter – Bass)
Recorded 5-7 March 2003, Radiostudio Zürich

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Swiss-German folk-songs do not figure very strongly in the CD literature, so many people will be interested to hear this disc simply from curiosity. I can vouch for their authenticity as traditional songs: when I showed the disc to a Swiss-German friend she recognised many of them from her childhood. She couldn’t actually sing many of them all the way through though.

The nature of this fractured memory of traditional songs is something which the arranger, Javier Hagen (who is also a member of the VOX Vokalquartett) has tried to bring out in these arrangements. In the CD booklet he says ‘these folksongsform our homeland in song. But who can actually remember and sing all the verses today? This disappearing world is what these ‘dis’-arrangements try to recapture, in a playful, abstract manner, while laying bare their existentiality, their fragmentariness and their hopes’.

Hagen has arranged the songs for unaccompanied vocal quartet, sung by the members of the VOX Vokal quartet. As might be expected from the preceding paragraph, the vocal arrangements are not all completely straightforward. Stylistically, they seem to inhabit a region somewhere between English partsong, the Swingle Singers and Manhattan Transfer.

On first listening, I found many of the arrangement too consciously clever; perhaps I would have felt differently if I had been familiar with the original songs. Where the group sing a quite straightforward arrangement, in such songs as ‘Auf der Alpen lichten Höhen(In the Airy Alpine Heights) and ‘Die Blümenlein, sie schlafen’ (The Flowers are asleep) one can appreciate the group’s lovely blend and fine vocal quality. The love song ‘S’isch äbe ne Mönsch ur Ärde’ (There is only one man on earth) receives an easy to appreciate arrangement which is both straightforward and imaginative.

But in the more complicated, disjointed arrangements, it took multiple listenings to appreciate the songs. In some cases I still think that the group has tried too hard. Not everyone will find the farm-yard noises funny in ‘Es wott es Froueli z’Märit’ (A Woman wants to go to Market), but the song is described as a coarse and sarcastic folk-song in which a woman goes to market whilst her husband neglects chores at home. In ‘Lüegid vo Bärg und Tal’ (Look from the Hills and Valleys), an Alpine farmer describes his impressions of the mountains; this sounds as if it ought to be poetic but the group choose to characterise the farmer using a tenor solo singing in a funny voice which is distressingly unfunny. That one can appreciate the witchy arrangement of the Hansel and Gretel song, is perhaps due to our closer knowledge of the story the song is telling.

This lack of closer knowledge of the original songs means that the rhythmically or harmonically complex treatments of some of them are difficult to appreciate.

Not all the songs are perhaps strictly folk-songs; some have words by poets like Goethe and Adalbert v. Chamisso. Only one is credited with an original composer: the melody of ‘Wenn eine tannigi Hose hett’ is by Otto Muller-Blum. The melody of ‘Guten Abend, gut’Nacht’ will be familiar to many as that of Brahms’s Cradle Song and the Christmas Carol ‘O Tannenbaum’ is included with its original (non-Christmas) words. The booklet includes complete original words for the songs, plus English summaries. Some songs are in German and others in Swiss-German, so German speakers may have difficulty.

All in all this is a disc where the singers display their not inconsiderable talents in arrangements which alternately charm and annoy. But if you are remotely interested in Swiss German folk-songs, then buy it.

Robert Hugill

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