Friday, 21 September 2018

Decades - 1830-1840

Decades volume 3 - Vivat
Decades: volume 3, songs from the 1830s; John Mark Ainsley, Lorna Anderson, Alexey Gusev, Angelika Kirchschlager, Soraya Mafi, Malcolm Martineau; Vivat Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 September 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Songs from the 1830s, a valuable survey from the Mendelssohns and Loewe, through Meyerbeer and Berlioz to Alyabyev and Dargomyzhsky

With Volume 3 of Vivat's Decades: A century in Song we reach the 1830s, a period after Schubert's death and before Schumann launched into song. A landscape with fewer towering masterpieces perhaps, but one full of fascinating incident. So here we have songs by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Franz Lachner, Felix Mendelssohn, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Alexander Alyabyev, Alexander Varlamov, Hector Berlioz, Alexander Dargomyzhsky and Carl Loewe, performed by John Mark Ainsley, Lorna Anderson, Alexey Gusev, Angelika Kirchschlager and Soraya Mafi with Malcolm Martineau, artistic director of the series, at the piano.

We start with Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, whose voice we are leaning is different from that of her brother. Soraya Mafi sings three songs, Die Mainacht (Hölty),  Warum sing den die Rosen so blass (Heine, a poet whom Fanny knew personally) and Wanderlied (Goethe). From the first song, we can hear Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel's liking for chromaticism, even in a gentle melody, whilst Warum goes with a flowing lilt and Wanderlied combines a perky piano with characterful voice. All three are sung by Soraya Mafi with a nice simplicity yet attention to detail

Franz Lachner remains best known for adding recitatives to the Italian version of Cherubini's Medea, yet in his youth, he was a friend of Schubert's, and his songs deserve exposure. Here we have three, sung by John Mark Ainsley, all settings of Heine from Lachner's cycle Sängerfahre (Minstrel's Journey) including texts already set by Schubert but where Lachner shows himself to have his own personality. John Mark Ainsley shapes the phrases beautifully in all three, conveying emotion through music. Strophic songs require care, and Ainsely gives us some fine storytelling.

Felix Mendelssohn's songs still have something of the 'Not Schumann' problem, his civilised and characterful approach though works well in the right hands. Angelika Kirchschlager starts with a pair of spring songs,  the first to a text by Karl Klingeman is vigorous and open air, the second to a text by the romantic poet Lenau is more robustly lyrical. Two Eichendorff settings follow, Der Walschloss is rather dramatic with a strong romantic atmosphere, whilst Pagenlied is lightly characterful.

This last raises one of the issues with Kirchschlager's performances on the disc, both in these songs and in the concluding Carl Loewe group. There is no doubting her character and intelligence, she really digs deep into the songs but some seem to need a more relaxed voice, a more focused tone. Or perhaps the recording simply caught her too closely.

The two Meyerbeer songs are a real novelty, more, please. Written around the time of Les Huguenots, this is Meyerbeer firmly in French mode, yet full of interest and more complex than many of the strophic songs being written in French at the time. Lorna Anderson captures the charming delight of La fille de l'air (to a text by Joseph Mery, co-librettist of Verdi's Don Carlos) and the plangent melancholy of La folle de St Joseph. Both had me intrigued.

We move from Meyerbeer to a pair of Russian composers who were entirely new to me. Alexander Alyabyev wrote over 200 songs, yet also managed to lead a colourful life; he fought against Napoleon, was arrested for murder and exiled, spending some time in the Caucasus. Whilst Alexander Egorovich Varlamov was equally important in Russian song, studying with Bortniansky and becoming the Kapellmeister of the Moscow Imperial Theatre. The two are sung by Alexey Gusev with a lovely husky baritone. Alyabyev's song Why are your singing O beautiful damsel is a lovely thing, lyrical and lilting whilst Varlamov's The Sea is a wonderful piece, dramatic and vigorous.

The musical material of Berlioz's song Je crois en vous might be familiar, it was re-used in his opera Benvenuto Cellini. Here Lorna Anderson sings the tender original with a fluid, shapely line.

We return to Alyabyev with I see your image, again sung by Gusev, which I have to confess to finding charming but a bit salon-ish. Next comes a more well-known name, Alexander Dargomizhsky. His Wedding. Fantasy is a delightful piece, highly characterful and full of dancing folk-ish moments, nicely caught by Gusev and Martineau.

We finish with a group of six songs by Carl Loewe, a composer who is best known for his ballads but whose song repertoire stretches much further than that. His song cycle Frauenliebe und -Leben uses the same poems by Adelbert von Chamisso as Schumann, though Loewe set more of them. Angelika Kirchschlager sings four of the songs, bringing a real sense of story and character into the songs. It is fascinating that Helft mir, ihr Schwestern includes a bravura element in the vocal line which is entirely absent in Schumann. The group finishes with An meinem Herzen to which Angelika Kirchschlager brings a strong meaning to the words. The recital ends with a pair of Loewe's animal fables, really delightful stuff.

Throughout, Malcolm Martineau accompanies with consummate poise, partnering his various singers in a whole variety of styles yet always bring the best out in the music. This is one of those discs where you wish there had been room for more, and it makes me want to explore some of the composers further. Which is just the point.

The next volume we are promised songs from France, Germany, Russia, Scandinavia and Spain, with of course Robert Schumann featuring strongly in the decade.

Fanny Mendelssohn Die Mainacht [3'29]
Fanny Mendelssohn Warum sind denn die Rosen so blass [2'08]
Wanderlied Aus ‘Heliopolis’ I, D753 [1'59]
Franz Lachner Das Fischermädchen [2'51]
Franz Lachner Die Bergstimme [2'33]
Franz Lachner Ihr Bildnis [1'43]
Felix Mendelssohn Frühlingslied, Op. 34, No. 3 [3'07]
Felix Mendelssohn Frühlingslied, Op. 47, No. 3 [2'34] Felix Mendelssohn Das Waldschloss [2'21]
Felix Mendelssohn Pagenlied [2'06]
Giacomo Meyerbeer La fille de l'air [2'18]
Giacomo Meyerbeer La folle de St Joseph [5’18]
Alexander Alyabiev Chto poyosh’, krasa-devitsa [4’07]
Alexander Varlamov More [3'26]
Hector Berlioz Je crois en vous [3'42]
Alexander Alyabiev Ya vizhu obraz tvoy [3'34]
Alexander Dargomijsky Svad’ba. Fantaziya [4'39]
Carl Loewe Seit ich ihn gesehen [1'12]
Carl Loewe Ich kann's nicht fassen [1'03]
Carl Loewe Helft mir, ihr Schwestern [3'48]
Carl Loewe An meinem Herzen [1'28]
Carl Loewe Der verliebte Maikäfer, Op. 64, No. 1 [6'30]
Carl Loewe Der Kuckuck und die Nachtigall, Op. 64, No. 2 [3'07
John Mark Ainsley (baritone)
Lorna Anderson (soprano)
Alexey Gusev (baritone)
Angelika Kirchschlager (mezzo-soprano)
Soraya Mafi (soprano)
Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Recorded 3-5 June 205, 23-24 June 2015, 8-9 November 2015, 21-23 June 2017
VIVAT 116 1CD [69.05]
Available from Amazon.

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  • Mahler distilled: Iain Farrington and Rozana Madylus in "On Angels' Wings" (★★★½)  - concert review
  • A pastoral delight: Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne in its original version from The Mozartists  (★★★½)  - concert review
  • The other Cinderella: Bampton Classical Opera's revival of Isouard's Cendrillon (★★★½) - opera review
  • More than just Haydn: cultural revival at Schloss Esterházy, Eisenstadt  - feature
  • Riveting and remarkable: Anna Prohaska & Eric Schneider in An der Front at Herbst Gold in Eisenstadt (★★★★★) - concert review 
  • Haydn at Eisenstadt: Armida at Herbst Gold festival Schloss Esterházy (★★★★) - Opera review
  • From Haydn and Elgar to Rap and Grime: Matthew O'Keeffe and Brixton Chamber Orchestra  - interview
  • Music, puppets & poetry: Goldfield Productions' Hansel & Gretel - a nightmare in eight scenes  - interview
  • In search of the Great American Opera, the strange case of Samuel Barber's Vanessa - feature
  • Essential Listening: Rossini's Semiramide revealed in a new complete recording from Opera Rara  (★★★★★) - CD review
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  • Distracting opera for distracted times: The Second Violinist (★★★½) - Opera review
  • A journey through time and music: 12 Ensemble at the Barbican, on tour and a debut disc  - feature
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