Martin: Le vin herbé; Der Zaubertrank

LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Le vin herbé; Der Zaubertrank
PERFORMER: Sandrine Piau, Steve Davislim, Jutta Böhnert; Rias Kammerchor, Scharoun-Ensemble/Daniel Reuss
Le vin herbé was commissioned during the war by Robert Blum for his madrigal choir. At the time Martin was much occupied with the Tristan legend, and chose part of Joseph Bédier’s novel, Le Roman de Tristan et Iseut. The singers act both as a chorus and as soloists, and Martin added a small instrumental ensemble including piano which, was to serve, as he put it, as ‘the scenery in a play’. The result was ‘Le Philtre’ (‘The Love Potion’), to which the composer eventually added a Prologue and Epilogue along with two other sections, ‘Le Forêt du Morois’ and ‘La Mort’.


The work casts a strong spell; it takes complete possession of you. Its colours are delicate in shade, pastel and half-lit. Its debt to Pelléas is clear enough in its strong atmosphere and dramatic understatement as well as its sensitivity to language, yet its world is quite unlike anything else. Immediately after the war, it enjoyed cult status and I can remember Walter Goehr conducting its premiere here, but it soon fell out of favour and apart from a 1961 recording in which the composer himself appeared as pianist, became a rarity both in concert and on record. Some years ago a New York performance under Mark Shapiro came along, but fine though that was this newcomer supplants it. Daniel Reuss has shown his sympathies with the Swiss master an earlier disc of the Mass and the Ariel Songs from The Tempest (reviewed August 2004). His singers and instrumentalists show themselves completely attuned to this exalted score and sensitive to its luminous textures and powerful sense of mystery. The choir has perfect intonation and tonal blend. Expertly balanced recording too. In all, a wonderful issue. Robert Layton