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Joseph Martin KRAUS (1756-1792)
Complete German Songs
An das Klavier (To the Clavier), VB 94 [02:17]
Die Henne (The Hen), VB 77 [2.19]
Schweizer Rundgesang (Swiss Round - Song), VB 72 [02:02]
Anselmuccio, VB 86 [01:08]
Die Mutter bei der Wiege (The Mother at the Cradle), VB 92 [01:44]
Der Mann im Lehnstuhl (The Man in the Easy - Chair), VB 91 [01:44]
An - als ihm die - starb (To - when he learned of the death of), VB 74 [03:25]
Das Rosenband (The Rose Garland), VB 85 [01:52]
Der Abschied (The Departure), VB 95 [07:14]
Die Welt nach Rousseau (The World According to Rousseau), VB 76 [00:58]
Daphne am Bach (Daphne at the Brook), VB 83 [03:30]
An mein Madchen (To My Girl), VB 87 [01:22]
Ein Lied um Regen (A Song about Rain), VB 90 [04:01]
An den Wind I (To the Wind I), VB 79 [01:34]
An den Wind II (To the Wind II), VB 80 [02:05]
Das schwarze Lieschen aus Kastilien (Black Liza from Castille), VB 88 [03:53]
Der nordische Witwe (The Nordic Widower), VB 89 [03:29]
Ein Wiegenlied: Seht doch das kalte Nachtgesicht (A Cradle Song: See yet the cold face of night), VB 93 [00:32]
Ich bin vergnugt (I am content), VB 82 [02:12]
Hans und Hanne (Hans and Hanne), VB 78 [02:06]
An eine Quelle (To a Spring), VB 75 [01:41]
Phidile, VB 84 [02:13]
Ich bin ein deutscher Jungling (I am a German lad), VB 81 [01:45]
Ein Wiegenlied - So schlafe nun, du Kleine (A Cradle - Song - So sleep now, little one), VB 96 [01:45]
Rheinweinlied (A Song to Rhenish Wine), VB 73 [02:39]
Gesundheit (Health), VB 97 [00:22]
Martin Hummel  (baritone)
Birgid Steinberger (soprano)
Glen Wilson (piano)
rec. Reitstadel Neumarkt, Oberpfaltz, August 2004
NAXOS 8.557452 [62.55]

I’ve been listening to Kraus’s string quartets recently. They have an occasionally startling abruptness at points that renders them a touch baffling, and this from a composer who looked more to C.P.E. Bach and Haydn in his chamber music than to Mozart, whose witty sign-offs are gracefulness itself. Kraus, in these moments, is by comparison suddenness personified.

There’s certainly nothing so eye-narrowingly personalised in these German Songs, half of which set the lyrics of a favoured poet of his, Matthias Claudius. One of these songs, Die Mutter bei der Wiege (The Mother at the Cradle), was for some time even ascribed to Mozart.

I wish I could say I listened enraptured, entranced, dazzled and stunned as one masterpiece of this Mozartian contemporary rolled out like foaming lager into welcoming steins. But really most are strophic numbers, short in the main and simple, with attractive, mellifluous and entertaining melodic lines - but little grit. There’s plenty of lighthearted comic stuff – sample Die Henne (The Hen) or a saucy interpolated whistle in Die Welt nach Rousseau (The World According to Rousseau) – and there are some warm and fluid cradle songs, too, along the way. The delightful Ein Wiegenlied - So schlafe nun, du Kleine (A Cradle - Song - So sleep now, little one) is an especially touching example of this last category. And I certainly wouldn’t want to underestimate his lyric gift or his acute ear for text setting. But there are too many similarities and rigidities in this genre and after a while – rather shorter than I hoped – I lost patience. His Quartets are at least questing and personalised to a firmer degree. This genre encourages salon prettiness, the poems easy-going charm.

I absolve Der Abschied (The Departure) from this stricture – a long, scena that reminds one of Kraus’s stature as an operatic and vocal composer in his adopted Sweden. Here, more than anywhere else, one senses Kraus’s true expressive and theatrical potential. Easy, I appreciate, to complain that these settings are something Kraus never intended them to be – still, the general impression is one of repetitious charm.

There’s an imbalance in the performances as well. Birgid Steinberger proves a fine and communicative singer and I’d like to hear her in Haydn opera or perhaps even in Handel. Martin Hummel has a warm baritone but it has rather too many technical limitations for effective communication – too often it’s unfocused and unsupported. Glen Wilson plays a fortepiano though it’s announced as just “piano” in the booklet information. I have to say it sounds, intermittently, horrible and needs some serious restoration work. In the circumstances Wilson covers as best he can but is exposed in tracks seven and nine - that’s when he’s not too backward in the balance, which is nearly always. In addition the recording is really rather reverberant.

This is all rather lukewarm but that’s how I felt about Kraus’s songs.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Reviews by Glyn Pursglove and Göran Forsling


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