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Fanny Mendelssohn, older sister to Felix, got a thorough training in piano and composition together with her brother and they had a close relation to the very end of their lives. They died the same year – 1847 – within six months of each other. Due to the conventional social attitude towards women’s freedom to practice artistic activities, she never reached public acceptance during her lifetime and several of her works were published under her brother’s name. Still she continued to produce music and left an impressive legacy of piano music, chamber music and a sole orchestral work, an overture in C major, but the majority of her more than 460 preserved works were songs, around 250. The first of those was a joint effort by the siblings, written for the birthday of their father on 11 December 1819, and it is this song that opens this programme, which then progresses roughly but not strictly chronologically. Thus we get a fairly good picture of her development as songwriter.
If we browse through the list of contents in the booklet we find that she very bravely chose poems by the great German names, poems that in many cases already had been set or were to be set in the near future by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and others. Goethe, Schiller and Heine are prominent names in the list, Hölty as well and, surprisingly, Wilhelm Müller. His poems about Die schöne Müllerin were published in 1820, and three years later the 18-year-old Fanny set some of them to music. At about the same time Franz Schubert set the same poems and his first song cycle was published the next year, 1824. Naturally they could not have known about each other and Fanny’s three settings here can’t match Schubert’s for individuality of expression. But of course it is unfair to use a song one has known for fifty years or more as a yardstick. On their own Fanny’s settings have a great deal to offer. The same goes for Heine’s Allnächtlich im Traume. Composed in 1828, twelve years before Schumann composed Dichterliebe, it is an admirable song but it is still Schumann’s tones that are indelibly etched in my musical memory. But let me take a third example: Goethe’s Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh also rings in my head in Schubert’s immortal setting, but when I listen to Fanny’s setting, composed in 1835, it has an individuality that for a moment makes me forget Schubert’s version, which I take as proof that by then Fanny Mendelssohn, at age 30, has reached a stage in her development where her voice has settled as her own way of expression. From this on her songs get wings and sail up in her personal heaven and remain there for the rest of the programme.
To be honest there are several early songs that are fully up to the mark. The Schiller setting Sehnsucht from 1824 is one to reckon with. Maybe it is Maarten Koningsberger’s expressive singing that brings out the best of the song. He is the most accomplished of the four singers who share this disc and also the only one I knew from earlier acquaintance. The other three are fully acceptable and often more than that but it is Koningsberger who has the full measure for these songs.
The last dozen of the songs are however constantly utterly satisfying and they should reasonably be regarded as equal in merit to those of her brother. A personal favourite is the beautiful Die Mainacht, and it is fully worthy to be compared to Brahms’s often performed setting of the same text. On the same level are the last three songs, two Heine settings and one Goethe.
It should be pointed out that the recordings were made as long ago as 1999-2001, The publishing and copyright year of this issue was 2001 and the songs marked with an asterisk were World Premiere Recordings at the time. But since then there have been several other recordings of Fanny Mendelssohn songs. I reviewed a Naxos disc ten years ago, sung by Dorothea Craxton, with practically no overlapping to the present disc. There is a second disc with the same singer which I never heard but it is supposed to include ten World Premieres.
There is a companion disc to the present one with the same pianist and the same four singers, which supposedly will come my way in due time. The present disc is certainly not without merits but prospective buyers are advised to sample before placing their orders.
Göran Forsling Contents
1. Lied zum Geburtstag des Vaters* [3:54]
2. Erster Verlust* [1:22]
3. Sehnsucht nach Italien [1:42]
4. Des Müllers Blumen [1:58]
5. Der Neugierige [2:38]
6. Die liebe Farbe [1:50]
7. Sehnsucht* [3:24]
8. In der Ferne [0:45]
9. An Suleika [1:44]
10. Harfners Lied [2:43]
11. Wie dunkel die Nacht* [0:54]
12. Allnächtlich im Träume* [1:41]
13. Die frühen Gräber [3:35]
14. Kein Blick der Hoffnung [1:19]
15. Der Eichwald brauset [1:00]
16. Nacht liegt auf fremden Wegen [1:43]
17. Suleika [2:38]
18. Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh [1:39]
19. Gegenwart [3:07]
20. Wenn der Frühling kommt [2:37]
21. Wenn ich mir in stiller Seele* [1:15]
22. Wie Dich die warme Luft umscherzt* [1:50]
23. Ich ging lustig durch den grünen Wald* [2:01]
24. Die Mainacht [3:34]
25. Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen [3:33]
26. Warum sind denn die Rosen so blaß? [2:06]
27. Wanderlied [1:43]
* premiere recordings