Saturday, March 11, 2017

Fanny Mendelssohn - Lieder (Susan Gritton)


Composer: Fanny Mendelssohn
  • (01) 12 Gesänge, Op. 8: 3. Italien
  • (02-07) 6 Lieder, Op. 9
  • (08) Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen
  • (09) Die Schiffende
  • (10-15) 6 Lieder, Op. 1
  • (16-21) 6 Lieder, Op. 7
  • (22) Traum
  • (23) Suleika
  • (24) Dämmrung senkte sich von oben
  • (25-29) 5 Lieder, Op. 10

Susan Gritton, soprano
Eugene Asti, piano
Date: 1999
Label: Hyperion



In 1836 Fanny Mendelssohn, now married to Wilhelm Hensel, wrote that her songs lay 'unheeded and unknown'. Until very recently, nothing much had changed in that respect. Scholars, of course, have long been aware of the songs (some 300 of them), and Lorraine Gorrell's The Nineteenth-Century Lied (Amadeus: 1993) has a seminal chapter, which may in turn have prompted the interest that inspired this record, and which, by remarkable coincidence (if it is one), uses the same painting, Friedrich's Woman at a Window, for its cover. Professor Gorrell concludes, modestly enough, that Fanny's 'unique voice deserves to be heard, for she has justly earned a place among the respected Lieder composers of the 19th century'. This record ensures that what has been earned can also be gained.

A few single songs have appeared in concert programmes and, if my own reactions are at all typical, have registered as pleasant, delightful even, but rather too comfortable and conventional to reward any more sustained attention. This is now proved to be untrue. Heard in sequence, as here, the songs reveal their strength. The melodies are more athletic, the piano parts more varied, the modulations more expressive than one may have thought. The choice of text - more of Goethe than of any other poet - challenges thoughtfulness. There is also a curious feature of the music: though the excellent commentary on the songs often suggests a reminiscence on Fanny's part (of Bach or Schubert or Schumann), the associations in a present-day listener's mind are likely to be forward as often as back. Die fruhen Graber (Op 9 No 4), for instance, is compared to 'a Bach organ chorale'; and yet as one searches in the mind to identify a kinship for that unusually deep-toned piano writing, the name which surfaces is not Bach but Brahms.

In less sensitive hands than Eugene Asti's this could sound muddy, and much else might sound merely complacent; but his clarity and feeling for rhythm and harmony obviate that. Similarly, a springlike voice such as Susan Gritton's could have confirmed the impression that pleasantness was all, whereas she is quite remarkably good at deepening the colours (as in Der Ersehnte, Op 9 No 1) and concentrating the mind (as in Im Herbste, Op 10 No 4). An excellent record: enterprising programme, fresh young artists, fine presentation. Typical Hyperion, in short.

-- John Steane, Gramophone

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: **** / SOUND: ****


Fanny Mendelssohn [Hensel] (14 November 1805 – 14 May 1847) was a German pianist and composer, the sister of composer Felix Mendelssohn. She composed over 460 pieces of music, include a piano trio and several books of solo piano pieces and songs. A number of her songs were originally published under Felix's name in his opus 8 and 9 collections. In recent years, her music has become better known thanks to concert performances and a number of CDs being released on labels such as Hyperion and CPO.


Susan Gritton (born 31 August 1965 in Reigate, Surrey) is an English operatic soprano. She was the 1994 winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Award and has sung leading roles in a wide ranging repertoire from Handel and Mozart to Britten, Janáček and Strauss. On the concert platform her work spans many periods and styles. A Grammy nominated artist, she has recorded prolifically for Chandos, Hyperion, Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Decca, Philips and Collins Classics among others.


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