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Nosag Records

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Vocal Duets: 6 Vocal Duets op.63 [12:47], 3 Vocal Duets op.77 [06:47], Sonntagsmorgen [03:15], Abendlied [02:05], Wasserfahrt [01:24], Denn in seiner Hand ist (from Psalm 95, op.46) [03:26], Ich harrete des Herrn (from Lobgesang op.52) [03:54], Zion streckt ihre Hände aus (from Elias op.70) [02:53], Wohin habt ihr ihn getragen? (from Surrexit pastor op.39/3) [03:15], O wie selig ist das Kind (from Athalie op.74) [03:25] (all sung in Swedish)
Organ Music: Nachspiel [06:12], Allegro [03:30], Fugue in F minor [06:34], Andante [05:51], Praeludium [03:39]
Anneli and Lilian Druve (sopranos), Steffan Holm (piano, organ)
Recorded in the Sofia Kyrka, Stockholm, 10th-11th March 1997 (duets) and in the Vårfrukykan, Enköping (organ music), 3rd March 1997
NOSAG CD 019 [70:40]

The larger part of this disc consists of the Peters Edition collection of Mendelssohn’s vocal duets, whose florid original cover is illustrated in the booklet (the modern reprint is plainer), played "neat", as it were. That is to say, the twelve original pieces Mendelssohn actually wrote for two voices and piano, plus five pieces, originally with orchestral accompaniment, taken from religious and other works, including the well-known "I waited for the Lord", so beloved of our great-grandparents. Though these latter have provided – and provide – much domestic enjoyment in their reduced form, I question whether there is really a market for them on disc in these arrangements ("I waited" calls for a chorus as well). Included in the Peters Edition but not here are the duet by Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny and that from Die Hochzeit des Camacho – these are scored for soprano and tenor.

Another difference compared with the Peters Edition is that they are all sung in a Swedish translation. Quite what the point of this is in our increasingly global village – and when the Scandinavians always seem such able linguists – I cannot imagine. Maybe the booklet notes attempt a justification, but since they are in Swedish only (the only concession to non-Swedes is the provision of the original German texts) I really have no idea what they say.

You might say that, since Mendelssohn never went in for the sort of detailed word-painting essayed by some of his colleagues, maybe it is enough to let the music lap over us and forget about the words, but on the other hand, however much or little Mendelssohn made of them, we have here some of the great names of German poetry, such as Heine (3 pieces), Eichendorff and Uhland, and surely their original texts have a music of their own. And, if the Druves are terminally allergic to German, it might have been interesting to try singing the Burns piece (op.63/5) to its original Scottish text.

All this might have been forgotten in the face of great performances, but these are merely serviceable ones. I presume the Druves are sisters, and they are billed as two sopranos, though Lilian (if it is she who takes the lower line) has a darker voice, more suggestive of a mezzo (but this may be an illusion since in some of the religious pieces which are really written for two equal sopranos, rather than a higher voice and a lower one, the difference between them is less evident. They blend well, except that Anneli’s tendency to begin high, sustained notes very softly and let them swell gradually while Lilian, lower down, attacks her note strongly immediately, means that in these moments the lower note dominates, creating an apparent distortion of the melodic line. When on their own, however – the religious pieces often give them an extended solo each before having them sing together – they seem somewhat tremulous and insecure.

The pianist is reasonably supportive, but in a piece like Gruss (op.63/3) he cannot avoid his repeated eighth-notes chugging heavily. All this might offer a pleasing enough peep into a domestic Swedish evening, but might not the participants in such an evening have brought along something by composers of their own country? I have really no idea what duet repertoire exists from Swedish composers, but surely an hour’s worth could be found and, while I don’t think the Druves are great singers, they are more than good enough to act as guides to something out-of-the-way and interesting.

The organ pieces don’t change things much, although at least there is no linguistic problem. I haven’t a complete list of Mendelssohn’s organ music to hand but if anyone who has already collected the sonatas is wondering if this might be a neat way of collecting the odds and ends, then at the very least there is a fugue in E minor not included here. In the only piece of which I had a score, the fugue in F minor, I thought Holm’s tempo very slow and laboured – the Lento marking surely refers to the dotted fourth-note rather than the eighth-notes. But, while a faster tempo might make it bearable, this is Mendelssohn at his most anonymous and I can hardly think the music would actually become interesting. The best piece seems to be the Andante, and here Holm chooses his stops for maximum variety, and he seems generally to be more effective on the organ than on the piano.

Moderately recommended for those who wish to hear Mendelssohn sung in Swedish – that’s about the size of it.

Christopher Howell

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