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Fanny & Felix (Chen Reiss)

Chen Reiss (soprano), Arabella Steinbacher (violin); Jewish Chamber Orchestra Munich/Daniel Grossman (Onyx)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Fanny & Felix
Fanny Mendelssohn: Lobgesang; Hero und Leander; Lieder etc.; Felix Mendelssohn: Infelice; Hebrides Overture etc.
Chen Reiss (soprano), Arabella Steinbacher (violin); Jewish Chamber Orchestra Munich/Daniel Grossman
Onyx Classics ONYX4231   65:07 mins

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Even with today’s upswing in the fortunes of Fanny Hensel née Mendelssohn, the recording industry still seems reluctant to prise her music away from that of her more famous brother, Felix. This recording from the Israeli soprano Chen Reiss is obviously no exception. That said, it is mostly a delectable selection, opening with the little-known Felix concert aria Infelice, written for the legendary Maria Malibran and involving an inspiring violin obbligato played beautifully and idiomatically here by Arabella Steinbacher.

Fanny is represented with some of her most beautiful songs, works which prove, if you still need proof, that her neglect until now has been phenomenally unjust; I’d defy anyone to hear ‘Die Mainacht’ without asking where it has been all our lives. Although her dramatic scena Hero and Leander is touted as the big discovery, its language is more conventional and less vividly individual than the more intimate Lieder – some originally issued under Felix’s name – which take all the biscuits.

Reiss has a bright, warm and open tone which enhances both composers with sincerity and spontaneity. While one might wish for slightly greater variety to the vibrato and characterisation from time to time, she’s a charismatic performer and consistently rewarding to listen to. The orchestrations by Tal-Haim Samnon are reasonably satisfying, though do occasionally veer towards the sugary; it is not clear why these Lieder were thought to need orchestrating at all.

Conductor David Grossman’s tempos are often on the slow side, and the one real downer is the ‘Rome’ version of Felix’s Hebrides Overture which is questionably sluggish and could have been harmlessly omitted. The recorded sound is a little bit bathroomy.

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Jessica Duchen