Monday 19 February 2024

In Relations: exploring links from Meyerbeer, to Loewe, to Mendelssohn, to Schumann, to Emilie Mayer and Frances Allitsen.

In Relations: Meyerbeer, Loewe, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Emilie Mayer, Frances Allitsen; Eva Zalenga, Doriana Tchakarova; hänssler CLASSIC

In Relations: Meyerbeer, Loewe, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Emilie Mayer, Frances Allitsen; Eva Zalenga, Doriana Tchakarova; hänssler CLASSIC 
Reviewed 13 February 2024

An engaging recital with an intelligent programme that explores the complex web that linked composers and poets, male and female during the 19th century

 In Relations from hänssler CLASSIC features soprano Eva Zalenga and pianist Doriana Tchakarova in a programme that moves from Meyerbeer, to Loewe, to Mendelssohn, to Schumann, to Emilie Mayer and Frances Allitsen. So, a disc of Romantic composers both male and female, then, but the concept is a little deeper than that. 

Whilst Schumann and Mendelssohn were friends, they were also linked to Meyerbeer as all three set poems by Marianne von Willemer, the only woman who ever co-authored one of Goethe's works. Carl Loewe made music with Mendelssohn, and taught Emilie Meyer, who set poems by Heine. Heine in his turn was enthusiastic about Loewe's settings of his poetry. And Goethe was most enthusiastic about the poetry of Elisabeth Kuhlmann, but she died at the age of 17. So the disc is one of fascinating cross connections and circles.

We begin with Meyerbeer, three songs that you might have a job deciding on the composer. Not quite lieder yet far more than salon musc. The Heine setting, Komm, and the Wilhelm Müller setting Meerestille are both rather charming, the latter also full of character with a more complex piano part, whilst the third song, Suleika is a romantic setting of Marianne von Willemer. All three are engagingly sung by Zalenga, and certainly make me interested to hear more.

We then move on to Loewe setting Goethe. Meine Ruh is hin is of course familiar from a far better known setting, but here Loewe is less intense, though the two performers draw you into the story. Der verliebte Schaferin is similarly full of story telling, going from lyric melancholy to something more complex.

With Mendelssohn's Hexenlied, setting Ludwig Hölty we are on more familiar ground. Here Zalenga is vivid, though sometimes the music seems to push her light lyric soprano further than it might want to go. We return to Marianne von Willemer and Suleika with two of Mendelssohn's settings of her poems, the urgent Suleika (Op. 57 no. 3) and the involving lyric melancholy of Suleika (Op. 34 no.4), songs that we ought to hear more of. The Mendelssohn group ends with Die Nonne setting Ludwig Uhland. The text is a familiar trope, and Uhland's text would also be set by Fanny Mendelssohn and Brahms. Here Mendelssohn emphasises the young nun's innocence, and the song has great charms

Marianne von Willemer returns again with Schumann's setting of her Liebeslied, with Schumann pulling no punches in a touchingly moving setting that does not eschew complexity. The Schumann group continues with Aufträge, and urgent yet characterful setting of Christian L'Egru.

Then two Elisabeth Kuhlmann settings, Viel Glück zur Reise, Schwalben, and Die letzen Blumen starben, both from a set of seven Kuhlmann settings written in the 1850s long after her death. Schumann evidently had something of a touching enthusiasm for Kuhlmann's poetry and the songs were designed to showcase her posthumous talents, evidently. Of the two here, the first is full of charm in a very Schumannesque manner, the second lyrically touching.

Emilie Mayer was something of the exception to the rule and had a major career as a composer, though her music failed to linger after her death. First we hear her setting of Heine's Du bist wie eine Blume, rather touching but lyric rather than intense, and with more a hint of the parlour than the more familiar setting. Next a setting of Marie Nathusius, one of the most widely read authoresses of her generation. Das Schlusselloch im Herzen is rather engaging, and performed with great charm. Though both songs seem to be written with one eye on the domestic publishing market.

We return to Loewe for Die Schneeflocke (setting Rudolf Marggraff) with its imaginative evocation of snowflakes in voice and piano, and Ihr Spaziergang (setting another of Goethe's collaborators, Therese von Jacob, a piece of characterful storytelling.

The English composer Frances Allitsen began her career as a singer, but turned to composition when her voice failed. We hear three of her Heine settings, all in German.  Katherine proves to be quite a surprise, and is far more sophisticated than the composer's background story might have suggested. Ma da draussen Schnee sich thurmen has an expansive lyricism to it, whilst Die Botschaft is more direct and ballad-like

We end with Schumann. First setting Rückert with a finely touching account of Aus den ostlichen Rosen then Goethe with Singet nicht in Trauertonen

The record booklet includes a fascinating diagram that demonstrates the interconnectedness of the songs on the disc. Some links are intriguing, such as Schumann's espousing Elisabeth Kuhlmann, whilst others are frustrating in the way female poets and composers have managed to be evaporated from history. But though there are song texts, there are no translations so you must go hunting for these.

What makes the disc work, is that both Eva Zalenga and Doriana Tchakarova give nicely engaged performances. Zalenga as a lovely, light lyric soprano, used intelligently and with fine diction, whilst she is sensitively accompanied by Tchakarova. A disc to explore and wonder why you haven't heard some of the piece before.

In Relations: 
Giacomo Meyerbeer, Carl Loewe, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Emilie Mayer, Frances Allitsen
Eva Zalenga (soprano)
Doriana Tchakarova (piano)

Recorded Schloss Filseck, Germany, April 2023
hänssler CLASSIC CD HC22050 1CD [57.10]

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