ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn
WORKS: Heimker aus der Fremde
PERFORMER: Juliane Banse, Iris Vermillion, Carsten Süss, Stefan Müller-Ruppert, Christian Gerhaher; Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart; SWR Radio SO, Stuttgart/Helmuth Rilling
CATALOGUE NO: CD 98.487
The Return home from abroad
was Mendelssohn’s own: he wrote several numbers of this ‘Liederspiel’ (a series of almost folk-like songs connected by a narrative thread)
on his way back from London to Berlin, towards the end of 1829.
It was designed to celebrate his parents’ silver wedding, and most of the Mendelssohn siblings took part in the first performance, held in the family home. Since Fanny’s husband, the painter Wilhelm Hensel, was tone-deaf, Mendelssohn obligingly restricted his part to a single pitch. That role of the elderly mayor is taken on this ‘live’ performance by Stefan Müller-Ruppert, who also delivers some newly-written speech to explain the action between the numbers. No doubt the original performers would have improvised something along these lines, but the words are delivered here in exaggeratedly theatrical style, and they’re neither printed nor translated in the CD booklet. Even if your German is up to scratch, you may find their inclusion irksome.
There is some attractive and witty music in Mendelssohn’s score, especially in the scenes involving a fake night watchman (very well sung here by Christian Gerhaher) desperately trying to interrupt the serenading of his rival. Iris Vermillion and Juliane Banse are outstanding as mother and daughter, too, and despite Helmuth Rilling’s somewhat pedestrian conducting, Mendelssohn admirers will want to seize this opportunity to hear what is one of his rarest large-scale works. Misha Donat