In the poetic cycle “Das Marien-Leben” (Life of Mary) by Rainer Maria Rilke, an angel does indeed appear to the young woman, but the glances that they exchange at this moment say more than the ecclesiastical version suggests. It is no wonder that the carpenter Joseph protests in view of the evident consequences – so much so that it requires an energetic intervention on the part of the angel. As a result, the life of Jesus is presented in a fast-forward version. When Mary takes her son’s body into her arms after the Crucifixion, there emanates a tenderness that points ahead to the next poem. It depicts the way in which the Resurrected One encounters his mother – in a closeness that no longer requires physical contact to achieve its intimacy.
And it does not sound at all as aloof here as one’s prejudices might allow one to think. The music that Paul Hindemith composed for Rilke’s poetical cycle breathes a sensuality all its own. To be sure, the vocal line is quite demanding, and the piano part does not offer accompaniment of the conventional kind. It embodies clear formal principles – especially in the second version of the setting completed by Hindemith in 1948, a quarter-century after his first version of the Lieder cycle. Ostinato runs, as heard prominently in the Passacaglia, are combined with the vocal line, themes with variations and often monophonic passages as well. Thus arises an exchange between what is sung and what is played, unique in this intensity.
The Swiss soprano Rachel Harnisch and the German pianist Jan Philip Schulze aim at precisely this intensity in their recording of Hindemith’s “Marienleben” in the version of 1948 released by Naxos. Their partnership is as far removed as possible from the concept of a soloistic vocal part leading a piano providing background support. Jan Philip Schulze, a highly experienced musician in the field of the art song, interprets the piano part in a supple and sonically beautiful way. In particular, he confidently projects it into space, making contact with the listener upon the very first encounter.
He is able to do this because Rachel Harnisch so vitally perceives the concept of musical partnership from her own perspective. This soprano, who recently enjoyed a brilliant success in Berlin at the premiere of Aribert Reimann’s latest opera “L’Invisible”, has a mature voice which emanates more than enough warmth and fullness to be a match for any and all the pianist’s trenchant contributions. Even more, she fully brings out the idiosyncratic sensuality of this composition. This singer interprets, after all, and does so with an urgent emphasis audible from Rilke’s wonderful texts, with impeccable diction and such convincing care in the vocal shaping that the balance is maintained in the duo at all times. There are reports of a joyful Christmas and of a certain John, designated to be a Baptist, who expresses his thrill of anticipation by kicking from within his mother belly. Also to be discovered in this recording is an unmistakeable but, in a certain way new, Hindemith.
Paul Hindemith: Das Marienleben (Fassung von 1948). Rachel Harnisch (Sopran), Jan Philip Schulze (Klavier). Naxos 8.573423 (1 CD)
Source:Blog "Mittwochs um zwölf", www.peterhagmann.com