Soprano Rachel Harnisch

Press & Media



NZZ Rachel Harnisch - a inquisitive artist

Called to Sing - New recordings by soprano Rachel Harnisch underline the joy of discovery of the Swiss artist

For a concert at the university her professor had given her the middle five songs of the cycle, and it was this music that had helped her to overcome her self-doubt, because here she had felt that she was called to sing. The technical demands of the cycle did not frighten her, but she was able to fully identify with the complex compositional style. "It was as if this music came from me." When a ray of sunshine fell directly through a window during the performance in the historic Freiburg department store, she felt it was a sign of fate.

Intellect and emotion

However, this "awakening experience" had a history. On the one hand there was the relationship with Rilke, whose work she had been familiar with since her school days in Brig with the class, they had visited his grave in nearby Raron and read his poems. In Hindemith's neoclassical tonal language she now found Rilke's poems set in music "as it must be". In addition, their origin came from a very Catholic milieu, in which the knowledge of the biblical events was self-evident. That is what has made her aware of the other, humanized image of Mary that Rilke depicts: Mary as well as a sensually and physically sensitive woman and mother, chosen to suffer.

After performances in Lausanne, Antwerp and at the Lucerne Festival, Harnisch recorded the 15-part cycle on CD with pianist Jan Philip Schulze. That they decided not for the first version of 1922/23, but for the version of 1948, justifies them with the own connection of text and music that this version own. "I am always interested in the text first, then the vocal handling of the setting, and then I let the work affect me emotionally." This synthesis of intellectual penetration and emotional design makes the recording of the "life of Mary" an event. Harnisch's soprano, immaculate, hovering lightly, rising without pressure to the highest regions, at the same time very corporeal, expresses the narrative voice with artful simplicity in the finest shades of color, moving dreamily on the fine line between empathy and distance from the action. In the light of Harnisch's language awareness, a perfect diction is self-evident, of course, but the absence of the Rilke text in the CD booklet is a serious shortcoming. In addition, however, she sets meaningful accents by the way she retraces the speech melody, emphasizes individual words and colors them moodily. The piano part, which cleverly plays on and underscores the voice, receives a relief-like contour from Jan Philip Schulze. The last two poems of the cycle show Mary in heaven. There is also the fourth movement of Gustav Mahler's Fourth Symphony based on a soprano solo text from "Des Knaben Wunderhorn". But now the "heavenly pleasures" are sung from a childlike perspective: it is funny here and there, it is danced and geschmaust. Also for this Harnisch's soprano has the right colors ready: blooming, velvety, tingling.

Heavenly delights

She has sung this solo many times, but this recording is, according to the booklet, a first recording, because it is based on the chamber orchestra version of Klaus Simon. The Mythen Ensemble Orchestral plays them under the direction of Graziella Contratto with dedicated access, whereby the solo instruments shine brilliantly. The CD is supplemented with five songs instrumented by Contratto, which the pianist Artur Schnabel composed around 1900 for the mezzo-soprano Therese Behr, his later wife. Harnisch also proves to be a sensitive text interpreter in these illustrative works. At the height of her art, she stands in a representative Schoeck recording in which her lyrical voice in the Mörike setting "Visit to Urach" rises to dramatic emphasis. In this late-romantic world of sound, she says, she feels at home; she could empathize with this yearning for home, youth and security so music had to be so that she could feel at one with her.


Shots by Rachel Harnisch: Hindemith: Marienleben. Jan Philip Schulze (piano). Naxos 8.573 423 (1 CD). Mahler: Symphony No. 4; Beak: songs. Mythen Ensemble Orchestral, Graziella Contratto (conductor). Claves 50-1709 (1 CD) .Schoeck: «Summer Night», Sonata for bass clarinet and orchestra, «Penthesilea» Suite, «Visit to Urach». Bernhard Röthlisberger (bass clarinet), Berner Symphonieorchester, Maria Venzago (conductor). Musiques Suisses MGB 6281 (1 CD).