Rheinmädchen

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COMPOSERS: Brahms and Wagner,Schubert,Schumann
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Rheinmädchen
WORKS: Works by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Wagner
PERFORMER: Bernarda Fink (mezzo-soprano); Pygmalion/Raphaël Pichon; Anneke Scott, Joseph Walters, Olivier Picon, Chris Larkin (horn), Emmanuel Ceysson (harp)
CATALOGUE NO: Harmonia Mundi HMC 902239

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Water-sprites, nymphs, sirens: from the earliest days of tale-telling, the Rhine has borne them up and carried them along. And the mighty river has provided inspiration for poets, composers – and programme compilers. Here such inspiration creates a whimsical and fanciful set of tableaux, in order to show off some seldom-performed, mainly 19th-century repertoire for female choirs and ensembles.

There’s a bit of cheating, too. The devisers’ narrative, spelled out in liner-notes which wilfully ignore the psychological subtexts of this particular form of gender-study, often use arrangements featuring horn and harp as allocated male and female accompanimental devices.

Take this, or leave it: the vocal ensemble Pygmalion, resident at the Opera de Bordeaux, are suitably seductive sirens – and even Bernarda Fink makes a cameo appearance in Schubert’s D920 Grillparzer Ständchen, her serenading awash with fellow female songsters, and harp.

The ‘Daughters of Morpheus’ tableau begins with a fragment of Wagner’s Rheingold dream-vision (harp, voices, four horns and two basses), and elides into Schumann’s Wiegenlied lullaby, made aquaeous in Vincent Manac’h’s transcription for female voices and harp. On to ‘Mermaids’ (Schumann’s female part-song, Meerfey) – though quite how Moses Mendelssohn’s translation of Psalm 23 (Schubert) gets in here is less than obvious. ‘Mourning’ leads to vocal canons from Schubert and Brahms – Lacrimosa io and Brahms’s tribute to Schubert’s hurdy-gurdy man in Winterreise. These are valuable because little-known; and they signal that this recording is the first of a triptych devoted to this contrapuntal device so central to German musical history.

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Hilary Finch