Monday 2 May 2016

A journey down the Rhine with 24 women's voices, four horns and harp

Rhinemaidens - Ensemble Pygmalion - Harmonia Mundi
Rheinmädchen Wagner, Brahms, Schumann, Schubert; Ensemble Pygmalion, Raphael Pichon; Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 27 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Magical sounds conjured from this journey down the Rhine with 24 women's voices, four horns and harp

This charming new disc Rhinemaidens on Harmonia Mundi from Raphael Pichon and Ensemble Pygmalion takes us on a metaphorical journey down the Rhine. Essentially the disc is a solution to the problem, what to programme with Brahms' Vier gesänge Op. 17 for women's voices, two horns and harp and so we have arrangements from Wagner's Ring Cycle, and songs by Schumann, Brahms, and Schubert as well as something after Heinrich Isaac. The performers are the women;s choir from Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphael Pichon with horn players Anneke Scott, Joseph Walters, Olivier Picon and Chris Larkin and harpists Marie-Amelie Clement and Yann Dubost. The horn players use period, late 19th century instruments with Brahms' requested natural horns in the Vier gesänge Op. 17.

We start with Vincent Manac'h's Auf dem Grunde des Rheines for women's voices, harp, four horns and two double basses adapting the opening of Wagner's Das Rheingold with the women's voices singing the instrumental parts wordlessly to create a striking and rather magical effect.

The programme is arranged in roughly thematic sections, Morpheus' Daughters, Mermaids, Serenade, The Mourning Women, Love's grief is monotonous and Rhinemaidens with transcriptions from The Ring dotted about, including a striking version of Siegfried's Funeral March for four horns, and the Rhinemaiden's music from Gotterdammerung for women's voices, two horns and harp in a completely magical transcription by Vincent Manac'h.

Not every piece is strictly Rhine based, I am not clear how Schubert's Ständchen fits in, here in its version for mezzo-soprano solo (Bernada Fink) and women's chorus with a harp standing in the for piano. And the same composers Lacrimosa seems similarly at odds, though it is quite stunning. In fact the presence of the Lacrimosa indicates another interest in the programming. Weaving their way through the Rhine are a selection of pieces all based on canons, as Pichon and Ensemble Pygmalion explore how different composers have used the canon.

It all sounds an indigestible mix and it could have been. But the whole is done with superb charm, and the performances are stunning in their beauty and sympathy. The choir of 24 women sings with a lovely clarity and beauty of tone, making every item a joy to listen to. And having the period horns adds to the joy.

In the Brahms Vier gesänge we get the sound of the natural horn which Brahms imagined, and this adds invaluably to the sound world and these songs make a suitable climax to the programme. The performances of the songs are magically evocative with a fine-grained blend from the choir blending with the colours of the horns and harp. The performances reveal the Brahms songs to be little gems.

Morpheus' Daughters
Richard Wagner - Auf dem Grunde des Rheines pour 24 voix de femmes, harpe, 4 cors et 2 contrebasses (arr. Vincent Manac'h)
Robert Schumann - Wiegenlied op.78/4 pour voix de femmes et harpe(arr. Vincent Manac'h)
Johannes Brahms - Ich schwing mein Hornins Jammertal op.41/1, pour quatre cors
Robert Schumann - Romance à voix égales op.69 n°5 : Meerfey
Franz Schubert - Psaume XXIII Gott ist mein Hirt D.706 pour voix de femmes et harpe
Robert Schumann - Romance à voix égales op.91 n°6 : In Meeres Mitten
Richard Wagner - Siegfried : Sonnerie de Siegfried pour cor solo
Johannes Brahms - Volkslied en canon pour voix de femmes op.113 n°5 : Wille, wille will der Mann ist kommen!
Franz Schubert - Ständchen D.920 pour mezzo-soprano, chœur de femmes et harpe
The Mourning Women
Franz Schubert - Lacrimosa son io D.131b - Canon à trois voix égales
Robert Schumann - Romance à voix égales op.69 n°6 : Die Capelle
Franz Scubert - Coronach D.836, pour voix de femmes, 2 cors et piano (harpe)
Richard Wagner - Götterdämmerung : Marche funèbre de Siegfried pour 4 cors (arr. James Wilcox)
Love's grief is monotonous
Heinrich Isaac - Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen (arr. Vincent Manac'h)
Johannes Brahms - Volkslied en canon pour voix de femmes op.113 n°2: Grausam erweiset sich Amor an mir
Johannes Brahms - Volkslied en canon pour voix de femmes op.113 n°13 : Einförmig ist der Liebe Gram
Richard Wagner - Götterdämmerung : Die Rheintöchter pour chœur de femmes, 2 cors et harpe (arr. Vincent Manac'h)
Johannes Brahms - Vier Gesänge op.17 pour voix de femmes, 2 cors et harpe
Ensemble Pygmalion
Raphael Pichon (conductor)
Recorded July 2015, temple du Saint-Espirt, Paris
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902239 1CD [74.31]

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