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Le Rossignol et la Rose
see end of review for track listing
Chen Reiss (soprano)
Charles Spencer (piano)
rec. Tonal Audiophile, Vienna, August 2012
ONYX 4104 [71.48]

This distinctive, attractive and wide-ranging recital consists of twenty-five songs by twenty-one composers. Some of these are little known and date from c.1680 to c.1950. A too boring chronological order is subtly avoided for reasons given below. Seven different languages are employed with English book-ending the programme.
 
It quite surprised me how many songs there are from which Chen Reiss and Charles Spencer could choose as they planned this performance on the subject of roses and/or nightingales. More to the point, how many poems there are on the subject from all eras. As Franz Binder comments in a brief booklet essay the conjoined themes bring to mind the “murmuring forests of German Romanticism, fairy tales and poems that tell of love, of its longing and pain”, so I shouldn’t be too surprised, really, should I.
 
Reiss has divided the sequence into five sections:  
1. ‘Eros’, is normally interpreted as ‘desire’ hence a song like Purcell’s Sweeter than Roses, which from a kiss leads to ‘victorious love’.  
2. ‘Elysium’ can be thought of as ‘deep joy’, and as Paradise hence, for example, the song Le marriage des roses by César Franck with the words “do you know how roses wed”.  
3. Solitude; in this section we have Bellini’s setting of an anonymous poem Vanne, o Rosa fortunate: “a lovely rose, we are touched by the same destiny/we are bound to meet in death”.  
4. Humour - exemplified by Schubert’s happy Heidenröslein, a poem by Goethe, as the picked rose, pricks the picker!  
5. Finally, Myth. In Sherwin’s famous song we know that the Nightingale never did sing in Berkeley Square at least the RSPB seems to say so (!) but it’s nice to think it might have.
 
I really like Chen Reiss’s voice. For my taste she lacks, I am pleased to say, that powerfully operatic touch. This is a true recital voice. There is a vibrato but it is under control and sometimes not employed at all. The pitches are crystal clear and she is very expressive with the text and has an even tone quality right across her range. She is a soprano but exploits the lower textures effectively if need be. She is also versatile and has been clearly willing to extend her personal repertoire.
 
Charles Spencer is the most attentive of accompanists allowing the singer to explore the melodic lines as she wishes and being sensitive to every nuance.
 
Out of all of these contrasted songs and their various stylistic demands, which have especially struck me? Reiss clearly sings with a smile in Schumann’s Die Rose, die Lilie from Dichterliebe, possibly because, sadly, women don’t have many chances to perform it. I had forgotten what a heart-rendingly gorgeous song Meine Rose is from the same composer’s cycle called Sechs Gedichte und Requiem. She negotiates Krenek’s contorted and emotional setting of Karl Krause’s poem Die Nachtigall - the longest on the disc - with consummate ease. It’s interesting to compare it with Berg’s setting of a poem with the same title but by Theodor Storm, which is surprisingly less intense.
 
There are just so many delicious, miniature gems here. I just love the tearful melancholy La Rosa y el sauce by the Argentinian Carlos Guatavino. It’s good to have such delightful French songs as those by Hahn and a composer new to me I’m ashamed to say, Pauline Viardot. Her Les deux roses is a track to play regularly. It’s good to have a rare song by Meyerbeer and such a light and happy example as Die Rosenblätter. There’s also a rare song composed in a folksy style by Weber on a similar subject to that set by Schubert, Ich Sah ein Röschen.
 
The song by Saint-Saëns, Le rossignol et la Rose comes from his incidental music to the play Parysatis and is a vocalise which consists of the monosyllable ‘Ah’. This allows the composer and the singer to indulge in some delightfully virtuoso bird-calls. Another pleasure is the Israeli composer Mordechai Zeir’s song Schnei Shoshanim based on a real happening in a restaurant - I say no more.
 
This very well filled disc has all the texts supplied and nicely translated with a brief note on each song and its composer. More detailed notes can be found on the Onyx website.
 
Gary Higginson 

Track listing
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Sweeter than Roses [3.22]
Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)
Le Rossignol de lilas [2.10]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Rote Rosen [2.21]; Das Rosenband [2.49]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Die verschwiegone Nachtigall Op. 48 no. 4 [2.13]
Zur Rosenzeit [2.30]
Ernest KRENEK (1900-1991)
Die Nachtigall Op. 68 [7.00]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Roses et papillons [2.20]
Le marriage des roses [2.20]
Pauline VIARDOT (1821-1910)
Les deux roses
[2.50]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Ach die Nachtigal [2.45]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Vianne, o rosa fortunate [2.18]
Carlos GUASTAVINO (1912-2000)
La rosa y el sauce [2.27]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Ablöung im Sommer [1.55]
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)
Die Rosenblätter [1.24]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Heidenröslein [1.57]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Ich sah ein Röschen am Wege stehn [2.05]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Le Rossignol et la Rose
[3.17]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Les Roses d’Ispahan
[3.12]
Mordechai ZEIRA (1905-1968)
Schnei Shoshanim
(Two Roses) [5.17]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
A nightingale sings to the rose Op. 2 no. 2 (2.48]
Manning SHERWIN (1902-1974)
A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square (arr. Gerlitz) [3.50]





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