One of the 19th century's most naturally gifted
pianists performed by one of the 21st century's is the proposition for
this new series from Hyperion. This bears all the signs of a chronological
survey in six volumes of Mendelssohn's unfailingly genial music for
On the evidence, even of the opening Capriccio in F sharp minor, it
is hard to believe that Mendelssohn acquired a reputation for writing
In intelligent, detailed booklet notes,
his biographer R Larry Todd discusses the likely reasons for this at
some length. Though always recognised as a prodigious composer, brilliant
pianist, first-rate conductor and highly significant musicologist, his
essential 'Victorianism' became a millstone with the advent of modernism.
Extreme facility and conservative musicianship rendered his corpus old-fashioned
almost at a stroke, a view that is still widespread today - and one
for which Todd himself sometimes hints at harbouring sympathy.
Yet the piano sonata in E, written by a boy in his mid teens, is a work
of striking beauty and no little depth, a tribute to Beethoven that
the latter would surely not have hesitated to perform. Howard Shelley
gives an account that would have impressed both men, light-fingered
and showing a dignified restraint in his pedalling. This serves as a
reminder to other pianists that they should be performing this work
a lot more often.
Written around the same time, the sequence of Seven Character Studies,
a magical work timelessly mixing old and modern styles, is another nail
in the coffin for accusers of Gemütlichkeit.
movingly expressive, reaching beneath the surface of Mendelssohn's score
once again to find Beethoven, and then Bach.
Of the four works in Shelley's programme, the Sechs Lieder op.19b come
closest to levity, although this has more to do with associations generated
by generations of publishers. As Todd explains, the Sechs Lieder are
generally known as 'Lieder ohne Worte' ('Songs without Words'), but
this is wrong - this title, its English and French counterparts and
individual 'song' titles are publisher confections rustled up for the
public regardless of Mendelssohn's offended aesthetic.
Sound quality is very good, although the resonances associated with
a church setting are somewhat restricted, toned down by a stereophony
that is quite narrow. Nevertheless, this CD is a perfect place to start
a Mendelssohn collection - even for those who already have a recording
of these works.
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