This curiously packaged release is one of a number that survey the complex personal and musical relationship between Felix Mendelssohn and his sister Fanny. The program is centered on a genre ideal for the examination of that relationship: it is devoted not just to the choral music promised on the cover, but specifically to songs "im Freien zu singen" (to be sung in the open air). Both Mendelssohns composed a number of these strophic but not unsophisticated unaccompanied songs, and here as in other genres there is something in Fanny's attempts not only of imitation of Felix's models, but also of expansion. Unfortunately, although the texts are mostly by well-known German poets, there is no instance here of them setting the same text. But you can observe instances in which Fanny adopts a technically simpler but somehow freer attitude toward the text. Sample her setting of Joseph von Eichendorff's Schöne Fremde (Beautiful Foreign Land, track 6), where the small Vocal Concert Dresden is the right size for the music and achieves a plain, unified blend under conductor Peter Kopp that serves the music well and directs the listener's attention to the texts. The bad news is that Berlin Classics chose an extremely resonant church for the recording, apparently believing that since this is German classical music, it had to be shown the proper reverence; a more intimate venue would have been immeasurably better. The booklet is another thing still: the buyer learns little about these pieces or the circumstances under which they might have been used, but instead is treated to an entire history of the Fanny/Felix relationship, told in excerpts from letters. It's an odd choice for this particular album, but there's no denying that the siblings' own words on the saga make for compelling reading. Fanny tells it best: "Having … one's wretched femaleness rubbed in every day and at every turn by the lords of creation is something which sends one into a rage that might divest one of one's femaleness if that would not only make matter worse." The letters don't camouflage Felix's leading role in his sister's repression, and the letter in which she finally informs him of her intention to ignore his advice is also notable. After offering the disclaimer that she is "no femme libre and unfortunately certainly not young Germany," she expresses the hope that he will not have any kind of annoyance, "since, in order to spare you any unpleasant moments, I have, as you see, gone about it altogether independently." A release that is worth it almost in spite of itself for those interested in the Mendelssohn family.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Gartenlieder, Op. 3|