Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Songs without Words [39:00]
Fantasia in F-sharp Minor, Op. 28 “Sonate Écossaise” [13:38]
Variations Sérieuses in D Minor, Op. 54 [11:20]
3 Etudes, Op. 104 [6:58]
Bernd Glemser (piano)
rec. 16-18 June 2012, Studio 2, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munch, Germany

While compositions such as the Violin Concerto in E Minor, the incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the “Italian” or “Scotch” symphonies have become standard repertoire, Mendelssohn’s solo piano works have not attained anything close to the same degree of popularity. Some have posited that they lack the depth of his orchestral or chamber works, though upon careful listening, one would be hard pressed to say that they are any less sophisticated or virtuosic.
Programmed most frequently are the Songs Without Words, either individually or in select volumes, followed by the Rondo Capriccioso in E Major and the Variations Sérieuses, but works such as the Fantasia for Piano in F-sharp Minor “Sonate éccosaise” or the three Études, Op. 104 have received far less attention.
This latest Oehms release demonstrates quite convincingly that these works have found a new champion in German pianist Bernd Glemser.
Glemser opens the album with more familiar Mendelssohn: selections thoughtfully picked from each of the eight volumes of Songs Without Words. These miniature character pieces, each lasting no more than 2-3 minutes, depict a diversity of colors and moods. Glemser’s lyrical phrasing and his ability to craft rich harmonic textures render melodic lines that are beautifully shaped and framed are perfectly exemplified by his treatment of Op. 19, No. 1 in E Major; Op. 162, No. 1 in G Major and Op. 85, No. 4 in D Major. His delicate touch and brilliant execution of the more momentous numbers like Op. 67, No. 4 in C Major (Spinning Song) and Op. 19, No. 3 (Hunting Song) effectively communicate the radiance and wit characteristic of so many of Mendelssohn’s compositions.
Things take a more serious turn at this point, beginning with the Fantasia in F-sharp Minor, Op. 28 (Sonate éccosaise), which, according to the program notes, appears to be modeled after Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. The somber Andante first movement gives way to a short but good-spirited Allegro con moto. The work concludes with a dashing and dramatic Presto, delivered by Glemser with plenty of bravura. Interestingly, some of the thematic elements of this Presto seem to have made it into the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D Minor, which would not be written for another six years. Although Mendelssohn composed three sets of variations for piano, the Variations Sérieuses were the only ones to be published during his lifetime. These 17 variations traverse a wide spectrum of styles, opening with the slow and austere D minor theme and cycling through passages of dazzling technical fireworks alternating with passages of quiet reflection and introspection. Glemser’s virtuosity is undeniable. He easily tears through the arpeggios in the 7th variation, and his fingerwork and articulation in the 8th, 12th, 16th, and 17th have razor-sharp precision. However, it’s not all about fireworks for Glemser, who can just as easily voice the chorale-like 10th and 14th variations with genuine expressiveness and sensitivity. He concludes the disc with the 3 Études, which, after the preceding two major works, sound more like encores than studies and bring the album to a lighthearted yet satisfying conclusion.
Throughout the recording, the piano is closely miked and warmly recorded.
This disc is a welcome addition to the discography of Mendelssohn’s piano works. Glemser, who has demonstrated his musical versatility with recordings of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Schumann, Scriabin, Shostakovich, and Tchaikovsky, now puts his personal touch on Mendelssohn and does so with success.
This recital, immensely enjoyable from start to finish, is a winner.
Albert Lam

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