A few recordings have been devoted to the music of Fanny Hensel, who was Felix Mendelssohn's sister. There is a unique release covering music she composed during an Italian journey that was also memorialized in paintings by her husband, artist Ludwig Hensel. But this release by German baritone Tobias Berndt and accompanist Alexander Fleischer represents a whole new ballgame. The pair programmed music by Hensel in song recitals, were impressed by its high quality, went looking for more, and found it in libraries where it had rested undisturbed for nearly two centuries. The current count of Hensel songs is about 250, which is more than Mendelssohn composed. The decision to record settings of Goethe texts is a good one, for it automatically gives listeners some of Hensel's most ambitious efforts. Her songs reflect a consciousness of both Mendelssohn and Schubert, but don't sound much like either one. They offer the accompanist, who would have been Hensel herself, a great deal to do, and there's a sort of weighty lyricism that diverges from Schubert's limpid simplicity and Mendelssohn's melodicism. There is not a bit of the conventional foursquare setting in a single one of them, and Hensel even manages to make the tiny Wiederfinden (track 19) into an entrancing original. This recording was obviously something of a labor of love for Berndt and Fleischer, who take care with each individual song and give the music their best. The booklet for this release is in German only, a disadvantage except for readers of that language, inasmuch as the recording offers major discoveries that ought to be publicized as widely as possible.
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