Fanny Mendelssohn’s Complete Songs, Vol. 3, with Susana Gaspar and Kitty Whately

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COMPOSERS: Fanny Mendelssohn
LABELS: Champs Hill Records
ALBUM TITLE: Fanny Mendelssohn
WORKS: Complete songs, Vol. 3
PERFORMER: Susana Gaspar (soprano), Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano), Gary Griffiths, Manuel Walser (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHRCD 124

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It’s time to stop pigeonholing Fanny Hensel (née Mendelssohn) as a female composer. Felix Mendelssohn’s older sister, who died tragically aged 42, was never demurely feminine, nor predictable – she was simply a genius. Singers, pianists, teachers – get hold of the scores you can find! Too much of her music is sitting unpublished in libraries, and I hope this recording helps change that.

Mendelssohn could certainly turn out the elegant Mozartian songs her milieu appreciated. But she excels in the tragic and dramatic. Indeed, the uncanny rumbling piano textures and formal freedom of In Herbst could have been written half a century later. The fizzing excitement of Nach Süden captures Mendelssohn’s love of Italy. 

She set the great poets – Goethe, Lenau, Eichendorff – and had a real affinity with the ambivalent, passionate poetry of Heine, as we hear in the unsettling Fichtenbaum und Palme. On the other hand, the dignified Bach-steeped counterpoint underpinning the tenderly wrought melody ofDie frühen Gräber (by the Classical poet Klopstock) also moved me to tears. 

I particularly appreciate Manuel Walser’s warm, flexible sound, which fuses clarity of text with Mendelssohn’s beautiful musical lines. Susana Gaspar’s rich voice brings grandeur to the repertoire. All singers are supported by Malcolm Martineau’s delicate handling of the piano textures. The recording’s intimate sound conjures up the interior world of the Berlin salon which fostered this superbly crafted music. 

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Natasha Loges