Louis SPOHR (1784 - 1859)
Six German Songs op. 37, 41 & 72
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Das Veilchen (KV 476) [2:31]
Komm, liebe Zither (KV 351) [1:44]
Vergiß mein nicht (KV Anh 246) [1:37]
Die Zufriedenheit (KV 349) [2:14]
Ridente la calma (KV 152) [3:26]
Abendempfindung (KV 523) [4:53]
Antonia Elisabeth Brown (soprano), Adriano Sebastiani (guitar)
rec. September 2009, Rainbow Recording Studio, Piano del Voglio, Italy. DDD
Texts included, no translations

Although the guitar probably dates from the Middle Ages it started to play a considerable role in Western music in the 16th century. This coincides with the appearance of the five-string guitar in Spain. In the 17th century it was introduced in Italy and gained a huge following. This seems to have diminished in the latter decades of that century and in the next. It was towards the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries that the six-string guitar came into existence.This would develop into the guitar as it is played today in classical music. In the 19th century it became quite popular: great quantities of music for the guitar, both solo and in ensemble, were written. Among the composers whose names are connected to the guitar are Fernando Sor and Mauro Giuliani. The present disc focuses on an interesting aspect of 19th-century music: songs for voice and guitar.
Sor was one of the composers who wrote songs for voice and guitar, but the songs by Spohr recorded here were originally written for voice and piano. Since not everyone could afford a piano the guitar developed into its cheaper alternative. Publishers took profit by printing songs with alternative accompaniments for guitar. That was also the case with the three collections of songs by Louis Spohr. The songs op. 37 and op. 41 date from 1815 and were first printed by Peters in Leipzig in 1816 and 1817 respectively. In those years versions with guitar accompaniment were also printed. These had already been announced on the frontispieces of the original editions. The songs op. 72 date from 1826 and were published the next year. Again a version with guitar was announced, which was printed in 1827.
It is not known who is responsible for the guitar versions. There are reasons to believe, though, that Spohr in any case approved of them. Moreover, he seems to have had a more than average knowledge of the guitar. That can be concluded from his own indications in regard to the performance of the guitar part in an aria from his opera Zemire und Azor. He also counted various guitarists among his friends. One of them was Albert Methfessel, himself a composer of many songs with guitar accompaniment. The songs op. 41 were dedicated to him.
A disc with songs by Spohr is welcome. He composed a considerable number, but they are not exactly part of the standard repertoire of today's singers of German Lieder. I have in fact heard some of his songs. I find it not easy to assess them on the basis of this disc because the performances are largely disappointing. The most annoying aspect is the incessant and pretty wide vibrato of Antonia Elisabeth Brown. It is not only that she uses it on too many notes: she uses it on every note, short or long, forte or piano. This becomes very tiresome after a while. Her diction is alright, although there are some lapses. The same goes for her German pronunciation: there are some errors which should have been corrected. A language coach might have helped.
It goees without saying that the balance between the voice and the guitar is quite different from that between the voice and the piano. In this recording there are problems in this department. In some songs the guitar is too much in the background. That isn't just a matter of recording technique, but also of interpretation. Ms Brown doesn't fully succeed in adapting her voice to the guitar. Her biography in the booklet tells us nothing about her credentials in this repertoire. She is mainly active as an opera singer and that is reflected in her performances here. Moreover, her singing is too one-dimensional. she could have done more with the texts and treated them with greater differentiation. I have no other recordings of songs by Spohr so I can't compare these performances with others. The addition of some songs by Mozart gives some indication of Ms Brown’s approach. I have heard far more subtle interpretations of Das Veilchen.
The booklet includes the texts of the songs but omits translations. That is very inconvenient as these are much harder to find on the internet than, for instance, translations of Schubert songs. The lyrics also contain various printing errors, and they are printed in such a way that the rhyming words are sometimes in the middle of a line.
The booklet omits to give precise information about the guitar. When I asked the webmaster for this disc I was motivated by my assumption that Adriano Sebastiani played a 19th-century instrument. I was misled by the reference to 'classical guitar' on the tray. Is that because someone wanted to make sure that nobody would think that an electric guitar was used? Anyway, it seems that no historical instrument is involved, despite the mentioning of Sebastiani playing a "romantic guitar" in the booklet. I must confess, though, that I don't know enough about the guitar to be able to establish what kind of instrument is used.
Even so, it doesn't change my assessment. I was happy to see a recording of Spohr songs, but I'm afraid we have to wait if we want to find out the true quality of these pieces.
Johan van Veen

Largely disappointing performances of little-known songs.