Mostly German folk songs: droll, dark, disassociative duets from Linden Loader and Roger Wilson

Linden Loader (mezzo soprano), Roger Wilson (baritone) and Julie Coulson (piano)

Solos and duets by Brahms, Mahler, Farquhar and Elgar

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 2 November, 12:15 pm

The advertised programme was slightly modified in the absence of Lesley Graham. It was called A Concert of Conversations: some lovers, others indifferent, contemptuous or hostile. Perhaps the Brahms folk-song settings were much the same as originally planned but the inclusion of five of songs from Mahler’s cycle drawn from the huge folk song collection, Des Knaben Wunderhorn was a response to the change from three to two singers.

Brahms’s setting of folk songs, Deutsche Volkslieder, were collected as a work without Opus number, WoO 33 – there are 49 of them – published a couple of years before his death. Both his, taken from a collection published in 1840, and Mahler’s from Wunderhorn, published around 1810, undoubtedly included songs that were invented or embellished by the collectors. In both cases the songs are transformed from simple popular tunes into works of art.

Brahms: Deutsche Volkslieder
Roger Wilson opened with ‘Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund’ for him alone. His voice is in great shape and his gift for droll, laconic hints that sometimes distanced the singer from the song, sometimes involved him completely. It will probably embarrass him to confess that there were moments when I could hear Matthias Goerne.

The next five were duets, or at least taken by the two voices. Some are deliciously naughty, like the song in the Kölsch dialect, ‘We kumm ich dann de Poots eren? (Kölsch is a dialect found among many inhabitants of Köln {Cologne} and surrounding Rhenish areas). As the girl finally advises her lover to take his shoes off as he makes his way to her bedroom, Roger does just that. And the tone of the song and its performance tells us the rest.

Some of the songs reflected more conventional notions of fidelity and chastity like ‘Feinsliebchen, du sollst mir nicht barfuss geh’n’, which, though also involving bare feet, ends with lover taking a golden ring from his pocket.

‘Ach, englische Schäferin, erhöre mein’ Bitt’ had me wondering how Germans manage the different meanings of ‘englisch’ (‘angelic’, and the people who derived from the region on today’s German North Sea coast who were 8th century migrants in England). Anyway, endlessly melodic, it passed from one singer to the other in the most charming way.

The next song entitled ‘Schwesterlein’ brought a melodic interference from the lovely aria from Die Fledermaus – ‘Brüderlein, Schwesterlein’ (I have a shameful weakness for J Strauss II’s masterpiece). The Brahms setting, ‘Schwesterlein, Schwesterlein, wann gehn wir nach Haus?’, however, is a strange little song with a black ending, emotionally obscure.

‘Da unten im Tale’ is another enigmatic tale of the ending of love whose gentle swaying ¾ rhythm rather belies the sense that the singers captured as they might.

Finally, there was Linden Loader’s solo opportunity, with ‘In stille Nacht’, one of the more familiar songs in which her voice, true and unostentatious, was an attractive fit.

The set was a chance to hear songs that tend not to be much sung; it’s a conclusion one can draw these days, seeing that no performances have found their way on to YouTube. Yet the songs presented here and my recollections of occasionally hearing others in Brahms’s arrangements have generally delighted me at least as much as his original compositions do.

Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Mahler’s handling of an earlier collection of German folk poetry, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, alongside Brahms’s, demonstrate their kinship, not just in treasuring the folk song tradition, but in the humour and perceptiveness of the naïve element in the ‘non-artistic’ style common to both composers. Though all five songs are from Arnim and Brentano’s famous collection, two of songs, ‘Aus! Aus!’ (‘Heute marschieren wir’) and ‘Starke Einbildungskraft’, are in another of Mahler’s song collections, Lieder und Gesänge, though the poems themselves also came from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

‘Aus! Aus!’ of course carries nasty associations with a latter-day version: ‘Raus! Raus!’, and indeed it’s an abrupt order that she get out; that he is going off with the army and will not be coming back. Wilson did the heartless bit very well. The other song from the same collection, ‘Starke Einbildungskraft’, features another arrogant Knabe: she has expected marriage but he simply announces that she belongs to him already, as in “what’s the problem?”.

The other three are from the collection that Mahler attributed directly to Des Knaben Wunderhorn. ‘Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt’ uses the fish as symbol of mankind which pays no attention to preaching. It’s quite strongly characterised, treating the matter with serious flippancy in disrespectful Ländler rhythm.  ‘Verlor’ne Müh’ (meaning something like ‘Love’s labours lost’, I guess) is another rough male response to feminine love and Wilson handles his friend somewhat contemptuously.

Finally, the folk poet and Mahler find a touch of gentleness in the yet worrisome ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen’, a fine song, sung entirely by Loader, in which the young man is off to the wars amid dark presentiments expressed in a military march by the piano. And I must remark on the ever-faithful accompaniment by Julie Coulson that offered sensitive and vivid comment, colour, narrative embellishment for every song.

In English
The tone was not altogether changed by leaving German in favour of English as Wilson sang David Farquhar’s setting of Lord Randal, the much-composed border ballad, for here too the voice takes on a bleak, ironic note that reflected the enigmatic tale.

The last note was left to Linden Loader, in one of Elgar’s cycle, Sea Pictures, ‘Where corals lie’, in which we could leave the threatening darkness that seemed to dominate both German and Scot, for the pretty and sentimental settings. However, it was a lovely vehicle for the indelible ease of Loader’s voice.



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