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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Works for voice and orchestra
Primo amore, piacer del ciel, WoO (1791) [15:55]
No, no turbati, WoO 92a (1802) [6:49]
Ah! perfido, Op. 65 (1796) [13:36]
2 arias for Umlauf’s Singspiel Die Schöne Schusterin, WoO 91, No. 2: Soll ein Schuh nicht drücken (1795) [5:54]
Prüfung des Küssens WoO 89 (1792) [5:35]
Mit Mädeln sich vertragen WoO 890 (1792) [4:10]
2 arias for Umlauf’s Singspiel Die Schöne Schusterin, WoO 91 No. 1: O welch ein Leben (1795) [3:09]
Ne’ giorni tuoi felici WoO 93 (1802) [7:51]
Tremate, empi, tremate Op. 116 (1802-3) [9:07]
Reetta Haavisto (soprano), Dan Karlström (tenor), Kevin Greenlaw (baritone)
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
rec. 2017, Turku Concert Hall, Turku, Finland
Texts and translations included
NAXOS 8.573882 [72:38]

In this anniversary year we can expect a fair number of Beethoven works to surface that even enthusiasts will have hardly heard of, let alone listened to. In particular, the composer wrote far more vocal music than is generally imagined – apparently half his works are vocal. Here we have a number of early concert and insertion arias, which he wrote while learning his trade, some while he was still in Bonn, others after he moved to Vienna in 1792.

The first work here, Primo amore, according to the notes, was written in Vienna in 1792. However, the two biographers I consulted, Maynard Solomon and Barry Cooper, having studied the handwriting and the paper used, agree that it actually dates from 1791, i.e. at the end of the Bonn years. The mistake is however understandable, as it is a large-scale operatic scena, with a gentle opening, some recitative and a faster ending. It is amazingly assured, with an expressive setting of the Italian text. The orchestral writing in particular is confident and secure. It is, however, far too long. Beethoven had yet to acquire that mastery of pace that was to distinguish his mature works. This is also demonstrated by the immediate next work here, the aria No, non turbati. By this time Beethoven was working on his second symphony and had a good number of piano and chamber compositions already behind him. One of his reasons for moving to Vienna was to study vocal writing with Salieri and you can immediately sense his more assured control. The final fruit of his study with Salieri is the duet for soprano and tenor, Ne’ giorni tuoi felici, later on this disc, which is a really excellent piece and well worth reviving.

The concert aria Ah! perfido is perhaps the best-known work here and one of only two to be dignified with an opus number (the others have to put up with WoO numbers – Werke ohne Opuszahl – for works without opus numbers.) This aria was written in 1796 and first performed by Josepha Duschek. She had known Mozart who composed for her one of his most impressive concert arias, Bella mia fiamma K. 528. In Beethoven’s piece there is an extended recitative, followed by an aria, not surprisingly, in a rather Mozartian style. Beethoven retained an affection for this piece, publishing it in 1805 and including it in his famously long 1808 concert where he introduced several major works.

The two insertion arias for the Singspiel Die schöne Schusterin by Ignaz Umlauf are in German and of no great moment. It is worth noting that Ignaz’s son Michael was close to Beethoven and was to conduct the 1814 Fidelio as well as the premiere of the Ninth Symphony. The other two works in German, Prüfung des Küssens and Mit Mädeln sich vertragen come from the end of Beethoven’s time in Bonn and were written for a singer who specialized in comic songs.

Finally the trio Tremate empi, tremate, which dates from 1802, was revised by Beethoven in 1814 when it was first performed. This is a very enjoyable Italianate trio. Interestingly, the three singers at the premiere also took part in Fidelio that year. The piece was not published until 1826, hence its high opus number.

The performances here, under that versatile veteran Leif Segerstam, are sprightly and assured. The soprano Reetta Haavisto, who has the lion’s share of the solo work, is serviceable rather than inspiring. I found her delivery powerful but rather unvaried and she has a vibrato that at times is too wide for my taste. The tenor Dan Karlström and the baritone Kevin Greenlaw have little to do but do it well. The recording is fine and Italian and German texts with translations are included. This is obviously a specialist disc but it will interest anyone wondering about how Beethoven learned to write for the voice.

Stephen Barber

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