Hindemith: Das Marienleben for Soprano & Piano

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Hindemith
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Das Marienleben (revised 1948 version)
PERFORMER: Soile Isokoski (soprano), Marita Viitasalo (piano)

Glenn Gould once famously called Das Marienleben ‘the greatest song cycle ever written’. Even allowing for his trademark exaggeration, and his obvious fascination with the grittily contrapuntal piano part of the work’s original, 1923 version (his recording with Roxolana Roslak remains a classic), it’s easy to understand the devotion this music can inspire.
Yet the song cycle remains something of a rarity, not least because it is one of the toughest challenges for singers of the Lieder repertory. Step forward Soile Isokoski, who opts for Hindemith’s later revision of his work, which retains many of the stark devices  of the original version, but with an increased aura of mysticism.
Based on 15 poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, telling the life story of the Virgin Mary, the cycle’s angular vocal lines are not exactly lovable, but they are powerfully compelling when sung with such smoothness
of phrase as Isokoski supplies here. Her strong sense of story-telling matches the pictorialism of the
piano part, magnificently played by Marita Viitasalo. John Allison