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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Songs and Duets - volume 4
Frühlingsglaube op.9 No.8. (1830); Der Verlassene (1821); Seltsam, Mutter, geht es mir (1825); Der Wasserfall (1824/5); Glosse (1825); Vier Lieder: (1830); Der Tag / Reiterlied / Abschied / Der Bettler Am Seegestad' in lauen Vollmondsnachten (1823); Durch Fichten am Hügel (1823); Ich denke dein wenn durch den Hain (1823); Tanzt dem schönen Mai entgegen (1823/4); Faunenklage (1823); Im Grünen op.8 No.11 (1827); Reiselied (fragment completed by Eugene Asti) (1831); Abschied (1830s); Hüt du dich (1834/5); Die Nachtigall (1821); Gruss (1840); Warum sind denn die Rosen so blass? (fragment completed by Eugene Asti) (1834); Rausche leise grünes Dach (1824); Erinnerung (1841); Maienlied op.8 No.7 (1827); Andres Maienlied 'Hexenlied' op.8 (1827)
Guildhall School of Music and Drama: Katherine Broderick (soprano); Hannah Morrison (soprano); Anna Grevelius (mezzo); Finnur Bjarnason (tenor); Stephen Loges (baritone); Eugene Asti (piano)
rec. Concert Hall, Wyastone Estates, Monmouth, England, 8-12 November 2008. DDD
HYPERION CDA 67739 [67:17]
Experience Classicsonline

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 Some of the dates are imprecise because their source is often unpublished, undated manuscripts found in obscure places.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 lead.

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 lyrics.

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



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