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Fanny MENDELSSOHN-HENSEL (1805-1847)
Das Jahr: Twelve character pieces [48:52]
Nachspiel (Epilogue) [1:27]
O Traum [3:09]
Ubung (Exercise) [2:37]
Notturno [3:05]
Hirotoshi Kasai (piano)
rec. 9-10 May 2011, IPS Building Hall, Nivelles, Belgium
TALENT RECORDS DOM 2911 118 [59:10]

Fanny Mendelssohn’s cycle Das Jahr (The Year) was composed in 1841 and was one of the works her brother asked her not to publish. Brother Felix may have been sexist, but may also have wanted to avoid a professional rivalry. Das Jahr, which has twelve movements each depicting a month (much like Tchaikovsky’s later cycle), is definitely a good enough series of works to challenge Felix’s supremacy.
 
“January” begins, to my amusement, with a dark and brooding introduction that plunges right down to the bottom notes of the piano. Presumably this is a hangover from too much champagne the night before. “March” is an earnest piece of hope and yearning and reassurance which is too grandiose to be all about the arrival of spring. That’s because it commemorates Easter, although if the piece was written in 1841 Easter had been in April for two years running. There was a March Easter coming in 1842; maybe she really did want to publish this piece. The month of May brings a “Song without Words” fully qualified to sit alongside her brother’s.
 
August is, surprisingly, a joyful epic, with a brief introduction and a catchy main theme that suggests to me that it was her favorite month of the year. September, by contrast, has a more melancholy hue to go with its non-stop right-hand note-spinning. November is in two parts, the second a Schumann-like toccata. Near the end, in a momentary pause, there’s something that sounds a lot like a minor-key version of ‘Ode to Joy’. December’s a bit of a letdown, because it’s an affirmative conclusion to the cycle and a reminder that the pieces don’t really have anything in common with actual months except for the names.
 
The four miniatures following are encores which bring the total up to an hour; they have their moments, but you’ll notice the final nocturne doesn’t feel at all nocturnal.
 
These require some virtuosity from the performer, but nothing taxing; I suspect they were meant for Fanny’s and perhaps Felix’s private enjoyment. Hirotoshi Kasai offers performances which present the music in the best possible light; I can’t imagine anyone else doing better. Kasai’s biography could use a bit of work - we’re informed he played Beethoven in Munich in 1981 - but his pianism is just fine. Either the piano is not quite grand enough or the sound is a little close and glassy. There’s a terrific booklet with an essay in English that quotes all the lines of poetry Fanny inscribed for each month, but be warned that the poetry is still in its original French. Fanny Mendelssohn enthusiasts, enjoy!
 
Brian Reinhart
 
 

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