This excellent release from Chandos presents Felix Mendelssohn’s works for cello and piano. These span from the early Variations concertantes
— composed when Mendelssohn was only nineteen and dedicated to his younger brother, the cellist, Paul Mendelssohn — through the two sonatas of 1838 and 1843, to Lied ohne Worte,
written specifically for cello and piano just a few years before Mendelssohn’s death.
The Watkins brothers – Paul on cello and Huw on piano - deliver extremely intelligent and well thought-out readings of these utterly delightful, assured, characterful and superbly-composed works. The performances offer a good layering of sound, with articulations and dynamics unified where necessary and differentiated to enhance the contrapuntal nature of the writing where appropriate. There is plenty of energy and zest in the Watkins brothers’ compelling playing, especially so in the outer movements of the Sonatas. On occasions the impression can be slightly dense, perhaps a little over-muscular, but the rhythmic underpinning and strong sense of phrasal direction mean that the lines never stagnate.
The presentation of the disc is, as one would expect from Chandos, good. There are intelligent and clearly laid out booklet notes from Bayan Northcott, as well as a rather lovely photograph of the Watkins brothers as children on their Welsh doorstep, Huw peering from behind his elder brother’s cello, which towers above both boys.
My only (minor) gripe with this release is that I found a bit of a balance issue overall. The cello sounds rather forced upon occasion and it seems too closely miked, with quite a granular sound in the upper register especially. The lower register, however, lacks elasticity at times, especially when competing registrally with the piano, such as in the last movement of the Second Sonata. One cannot, however, fault the music-making itself; these are excellent realisations of this wonderful music.
Previous review: John Sheppard