Sehnsucht is the title of a new CD from Barbara Hannigan and friends. It features three works in new arrangements for voice and chamber ensemble. Hannigan sings Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder in an arrangement by Reinbert de Leeuw. Baritone Raoul Steffani sings the Vier Gesänge Op.2 in an arrangement by Henk de Vlieger. There’s also a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No.4 in an arrangement by Erwin Stein. The eleven member Camerata RCO is conducted by Rolf Verbeek.
“Sehnsucht”, roughly translated, means “longing” and here it refers to the yearning to get back to some form of normality at the time these recordings were made, in an empty hall in Rotterdam, for a live stream in the spring of 2021 when I think the feeling that inspires and animates this recording was being felt by many of us. This idea is explored at greater length by Hannigan in the accompanying booklet. It’s certainly music that evokes wanting to be in another “where” or “when”.
The Berg songs are I suppose one of Hannigan’s most performed pieces and here she gives the sort of exemplary performance of them one would expect. The text is really important here and Hannigan treats it with appropriate respect but it’s her evocation of mood that really impresses. This music belongs to that uneasy period when romanticism and a kind of modernism were in dialogue. It’s a mood felt especially strongly in Viennese music of the period but which permeated European thought in the run up to the catastrophe of WW! (for those who want to explore that idea more I’d heartily recommend Modris Ecksteins’ Rites of Spring.). Hannigan gets it and it really shows here.
The second set of songs is perhaps even further along the path to modernity with themes of night and darkness and touches of atonality. They are very well sung by Steffani who has a voice that’s very easy on the ear and true Lieder sensitivity.
I think chamber ensemble arrangements suit these songs really well. There’s (almost) all the colour of an arrangement for full orchestra with much greater clarity. It also allows the singer to sing with the subtlety of a Lieder singer without having to fight with a large orchestra. It’s something I first experienced with the Schoenberg arrangements of Mahler songs and it works just as well here.
The Mahler arrangement is really nice too. I’ve heard performances of this piece that make it sound leaden but Verbeek’s reading is sprightly with almost a dance like quality while still being gorgeously lyrical. Hannigan’s contribution to the final movement is quite serious which seems somewhat at odds with a superficial reading of the text but actually it works rather well. And I didn’t miss a larger orchestra one bit.
The recording is excellent; detailed and clear. The documentation is generous with full texts and a couple of useful explanatory pieces although, oddly, the digital booklet claims 68 minutes of music when there’s actually something over 80!. It’s due for release October 28th 2022 and will be available as a physical CD and on the usual streaming services. I’m not sure about digital downloads.
This is a most worthwhile release especially if one is partial to chamber ensemble arrangements.
Catalogue number: Alpha 872