This is the fourth Guildhall School CD of Mendelssohn Songs
and Duets. The series is the inspiration of Eugene Asti who
has researched and sourced this rare material. This disc comprises
songs - and no duets - that range between 1820 and 1841. Some
of the dates are imprecise because their source is often unpublished,
undated manuscripts found in obscure places. Der Wasserfall
for instance came up for auction at Sotheby's
in 2007 and was sold to the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin.
It is believed to be a fine discovery for Mendelssohn scholarship.
This song is one of the many Mendelssohn settings of words by
his close friend, the diplomat Karl Klingemann (1798-1862).
Mendelssohn remarked to the poet: 'When I get poems from
you, I have the feeling that I don't need to make music
... it is as if the music is there before me ...'
These songs are from a period when Mendelssohn was in his mid-teens
to his early thirties. An immaturity of style pervades some
of the early pieces, but this provides an interesting benchmark
to indicate the way the composer shaped his musical horizons.
Mendelssohn would have been conscious that he was following
in the shadow of the eminent Schubert the bulk of whose vast
number of popular songs came from only five years earlier. Mendelssohn's
style is varied and he even anticipates those musical characteristics
which we sometimes associate with Schumann and, later, Debussy.
Certain items from this 25 song disc require special mention:
Mendelssohn wrote only one song-cycle, and this is recorded
here. He modestly entitles it, Vier Lieder (Four Songs).
The songs chart the life of a man through periods of joy and
happiness to neglect and sorrow. The singer first recalls the
happy days of childhood with its youthful years of yearning
and hope. The second song concerns a horseback journey to reach
his heart's desire. In the third, a call to war to support
the Fatherland severs the lovers' tie. A final homecoming,
as a beggar, brings an awareness of his lover's suffering
at his absence. Seeing her from a distance makes him wonder
whether he has the courage to renew his love. In composition
the first song is provided with a joyful, rippling accompaniment,
but the voice line seems rather heavy for the description being
made in the lyric's sentimental reminiscences. The second
song is more appropriate to the subject matter: the choppy,
galloping rhythm and anticipation of a hopeful greeting at the
end of the journey. Finnur Bjarnason puts both energy and appropriate
sentimental colour into his warm-toned singing of this cycle.
Mendelssohn anticipates Schumann; maybe Schumann followed Mendelssohn's
The descriptively evocative Seegestad in lauen Vollmondsnachten
(By the lake shore, on warm moonlit nights) would suggest
more of a tone poem treatment. For me, Mendelssohn here is rather
ordinary, lacking in colour and missing an opportunity for evoking
a serene musical landscape. Stephen Loges does his best to engage
the listener. Hannah Morrison in Durch Fichten Am Hügel
sings delightfully with an innocence suggested by a light
voice and little vibrato. Her diction and timing are spot-on.
In the high key setting of Im Grünen, Katherine
Broderick has to soar. This she does effortlessly and retains
a good legato to lyrics concerned with hillside wanderings.
Der Wasserfall is a stirring and fast-moving piece that
benefits from the momentum Katherine Broderick and Eugene Asti
give it. Mendelssohn is probably at his best here with an addictively
descriptive accompaniment that at times predicts the French
school of Debussy and Ravel. This is perhaps my favourite among
the songs presented. It bears full testimony to the remark made
(above) by Mendelssohn to Karl Klingemann, the poet who supplied
The support of Anna Grevelius and Stephen Loges is excellent.
The recital enjoys a good acoustic and the piano is never swamped
by the voice. The booklet contains good notes by Susan Youens
and lyrics are provided in English, German and French.
Raymond J Walker