Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel’s Songs Mature

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Fanny Hensel, ‘the other Mendelssohn’: Complete Songs (Champs Hill)

I’m uncomfortable with the album title. Rather than being ‘the other Mendelssohn’, Fanny was the heart of the Mendelssohn family and a fine composer in her own right – despite patriarchal suppression by her father and angry resentment from her brother, Felix.

Fanny, married to a Berlin artist, kept her works in a drawer until her late 30s, when she went out and got them published, to Felix’s amazement and grudging admiration. Sadly, there was little time for her to enjoy the reviews. Fanny died of a stroke at 41 and Felix, shattered, survived her by barely six months.

Her songbook, delivered here by four international singers and the pianist Malcolm Martineau, draws on Schiller, Goethe, Lenau, Klopstock and Heine – whom Fanny ardently disliked. Her musical style has more in common with the young Schumann than it does with her brother. The heart is worn recklessly on her sleeve; the words fit the music like a kid glove. Clearly intended for home use, the songs were never designed to be heard end to end, but there are many high points, notably the Wanderers Nachtlied, which hints at untapped depths of loneliness. Her style betrays no hint of deference or insecurity. Fanny Hensel is a mature composer, barely bothering to look over her shoulder at what her brother is up to.

The young singers – Susana Gaspar (Portugal), Gary Griffiths (Wales), Manuel Walser (Switz.) and Kitty Whaley (England) – are almost overly enthusiastic about these excellent songs. Try some.

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About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review.

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