Nightingale - A Tribute to Jenny Lind
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809 – 1847)
Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90 “Italian” [28:59]
Clara SCHUMANN (1819 – 1896)
Lieder, Op. 12 [9:01]
Alban BERG (1885 – 1935)
Sieben frühe Lieder (arr. for chamber orchestra: Paul Leonard Schäffer) [14:36]
Andrea TARRODI (b. 1981)
The Nightingale (arr. for chamber orchestra by the composer) [13:54]
Elin Rombo (soprano)
Västerås Sinfonietta/Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)
Rec. 17-20 June 2019, Västerås Konserthus, Stora salen, Sweden
DB PRODUCTION DBCD196 [66:32]
The first thought, when I browsed through the contents of this tribute to Jenny Lind, was “where is the connection between the legendary singer and these composers?” That there was a deep friendship between Mendelssohn and Ms Lind is well-known. Whether it ever was something beyond platonic love we will probably never know. Whether the particular work by Mendelssohn, the ‘Italian’ symphony, had anything to do with Jenny Lind is uncertain. A more direct link would of course be his oratorio Eliah, where the soprano part was written with her voice in mind – even though she wasn’t at hand to sing it at the premiere. But the others? Simon Crawford-Phillips’s notes give the clues. Clara Schumann and Jenny Lind must surely have met and Jenny probably sang songs by both Clara and Robert, maybe accompanied by Clara. Another famous person who also was in love with Jenny was H. C. Andersen, who wanted to marry her. When she rejected him he wrote the autobiographical story about the nightingale, and it is that bird that is present in Andrea Tarrodi’s piece and also in one of the seven early songs by Alban Berg.
The disc comes off with a fresh, relatively brisk reading of the ‘Italian’ symphony. The sound is transparent and airy but there is also power in reserve for thrilling fortes. Simon Crawford-Phillips, who has been artistic advisor and chief conductor of the Västerås Sinfonietta since 2017, is flexible in his choices of tempos and the first movement is full of contrasts. Overall he conjures up the pleasure and joy that is so central for this symphony. This is open-air music and in particular the finale with its fairy-like Midsummer Night music gliding over dew-fresh grass is truly enticing.
After the symphony Simon Crawford-Phillips changes from conductor’s desk to piano stool and accompanies Elin Rombo in four of Clara Schumann’s finest songs. They are well conceived and nuanced but her tone is unfortunately uncharacteristically worn and shrill and vibrato-laden. I have heard her many times, both in opera and concert and admired her rounded tone and elegance in delivery, but here she is, alas, out of sorts.
The same must be said about Alban Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder, which have become almost standard repertoire lately. Here they are performed in Paul Leonard Schäffer’s arrangement for chamber orchestra. The sound is leaner than Berg’s own version for full symphony orchestra and a worthy alternative. But the singing is, sad to say, not up to the mark. Others may be more tolerant so sample before you buy.
Andrea Tarrodi composed Nightingale in 2009 and it is inspired by Andersen’s fairy tale. Briefly it goes like this:
The Emperor of China hears that one of the most beautiful things in his own land is the song of the nightingale. He sends his courtiers to take a nightingale from the nearby forest and present her as a guest at court. The bird can communicate with the humans and agrees to come, but when the Emperor is given a mechanical nightingale covered with jewels, he loses interest in the real bird, which flies back to its home. The mechanical bird breaks down. When the Emperor is taken deathly ill, the real nightingale appears and its song so moves Death that he turns away and the emperor lives on.
The music begins calmly and immobile. There are beautiful melodic fragments often in the woodwind. Halfway through the music changes character, becomes nervous and a ticking motive is recurrently heard. I first thought it was a woodpecker but concluded that it was that mechanical nightingale beginning to break down. At 8:55 the music reaches a powerful climax, and then then it softens again with beautiful thematic fragments and ominous percussion effects in the background. Gradually it fades down, a solo flute is heard distantly – then silence. It is a moving piece to which I will return with pleasure.
The Mendelssohn symphony has been recorded innumerable times but Simon Crawford-Phillips reading can hold its ground against the keen competition, and Andrea Tarrodi’s Nightingale is a welcome addition to the catalogue. But for the Clara Schumann and Alban Berg songs I’m afraid prospective buyers will have to look elsewhere.