Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Sonata in B flat major, opus 106
Variations Sérieuses in D minor, opus 54
Fantaisies, opus 16
Fantasia in F sharp minor, opus 28 "sonata écossaise'

 Matthias Kirschnereit (piano)
Rec 17-19 April 2000, Cologne
ARTE NOVA 74321 76808 2 (59.16)
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Matthias Kirschnereit is a very talented pianist, and the Arte Nova engineers have captured his Mendelssohn performances in atmospheric and truthful sound. This disc will do much to enhance his reputation beyond Germany, where he is already known as one of the leading pianists of the younger generation, although he has toured widely in Europe and Australia.

Mendelssohn's piano music is of particular interest to developing our understanding of the early romantic period. Kirschnereit's programme highlights both its strengths and its possible weaknesses (these will depend on the listener's tolerance of light, darting phrases). The masterpiece on this CD is undoubtedly the Variations sérieuses, and it is tempting to declare that it receives the best performance. Such a judgement may simply be a reflection of the fact that the music has the greatest substance, however. Be that as it may, there is no question that the interpretation does credit to the power and vision of the music, and its keenly argued and subtle development. In fact it is worth the price of the disc on its own (though given the bargain Arte Nova price this is not intended to sound like faint praise).

The other music is more likely to charm than to move the listener. The Sonata is an early piece from 1827 - by which time Mendelssohn had already composed the Midsummer Night's Dream Overture and the Octet - but it is not a masterpiece to rank among the best of his keyboard works. It was published posthumously as opus 106, and if this opus number conjures the portentous name of Beethoven (it is that of the powerful Hammerklavier Sonata), it is no coincidence, since the publisher Julius Rietz chose it to acknowledge Mendelssohn's liking for Beethoven's masterpiece. But one wonders why the link should be encouraged, since Mendelssohn's manner is altogether lighter. As ever, the quicksilver Scherzo shows the composer at his mercurial best.

The Trois fantaisies (1829) are lightly romantic mood pieces, while the F sharp minor Fantasy, originally called Sonate écossaise, as composed in 1828 and revised five years later when the composer's interest in piano music was at its height. It is cast as a slow introduction leading to a sonata form, and it makes a telling impression in this elegantly crafted performance. Kirschnereit responds sensitively to Mendelssohn's piano style and, while the sound occasionally seems heavy, the touch is always alert to the composer's light textures as well as the romantic turns of phrase.

Terry Barfoot

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