COMPOSERS: Clara Schumann/Fanny Mendelssohn/Alma Mahler
WORKS: Lieder: Am Strande; ‘Er ist gekommen; Die gute Nacht
PERFORMER: Christina Högman (soprano), Roland Pöntinen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-738 DDD
Dark tales continue to emerge about Robert Schumann’s ruthless domination of his wife Clara’s creative life; of Felix Mendelssohn’s refusal to help his sister Fanny in the publication of her compositions; and of Gustav Mahler’s demands that his wife Alma should give up composing altogether. The social context, psychological profile and distinctive musical language of these three women still awaits longer and more thoughtful analysis – and this is not the place. But this recording redresses an obvious imbalance in the catalogue (not one of Fanny Mendelssohn’s songs is currently readily available), in sympathetic performances from the light lyric soprano of Christina Högman and her lively pianist Roland Pöntinen.
The finest of Clara Schumann’s songs, like ‘Am Strande’, ‘Er ist gekommen’ and ‘Die gute Nacht’, reveal an instinctive grasp of verbal inflection and considerable skill at distilling the spirit of the verse in wide-ranging piano accompaniments which nonetheless never achieve quite the independence of her husband’s. The originality of Fanny Mendelssohn’s voice, particularly in her challenging vocal writing, sings out of ‘The Early Graves’, where the piano, recreating the slow, sad steps of the moon, tracks the supple melodic line. Alma Mahler’s are by far the most compelling songs: only 14 of them were published in her lifetime, and this group of four gives just a hint of their ardent search for a language strong enough to express a rare complexity of response. Hilary Finch