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Arnold MENDELSSOHN (1855–1933)
Complete Piano Works
Federzeichnungen, Op. 20 (1880s) [19:22]
Piano Sonatina in C Minor, Op. 121 (1889) [17:56]
Piano Sonata in C Minor, Op. 119 (1990 rev 1932) [25:27]
Moderne Suite, Op. 79 (1918) [19:54]
Piano Sonata in E Minor, Op. 66 (1914) [36:28]
Albumblatt in D major (1907) [1:57]
Elżbieta Sternlicht (piano)
rec. 2016/17, Ölbergkirche, Berlin
HÄNSSLER HC17088 [62:50 + 58:24]

Arnold Mendelssohn, the composer under consideration here, was the great-nephew of the famous Felix. His birthplace was Racibórz in Poland, then the Silesian town of Ratibor. This Mendelssohn's piano works are not large in number. Hänssler have gone out of their way with Elżbieta Sternlicht to record all of them.

He is not a complete stranger to the commercial recorded catalogue. Brian Wilson did an excellent survey of his achievement in one of the Round-Ups. In addition I would mention two discs: Christmas music and CPO's and the Reinhold-Quartet's version of String Quartets Opp. 67 and 83 on 777 774-2.

The music here is warm-hearted and concerned, healthily enough, with the worlds of Bach, Brahms, Schubert and the elder Mendelssohn. The Federzeichnungen are 'pen and ink sketches'. These five pieces are hardly miniatures at between 2:21 and 4:53; most of them run closer to the longest. As mood sketches they are charming, quite conventional and more than amiable. Each is positive and glistens with silvery temperament. The little Vivo chimes away more and is lightly emotional than an overt display piece. There's a touch of Chopin in these pieces. The three-movement Piano Sonatina in C Minor encompasses two placid bell-chiming Mäßig and Munter movements encasing a purposefully striding Mit Feuer that hardly merits the Feuer tag. It's all a step on from MacDowell but smooth and unsentimental in a Brahmsian fashion. This self-contained sunny mood overarches the four-movement Piano Sonata in C Minor although there are some mobile shadows to intrigue the listener in the second movement. There's also a patterned Bach-like Allegro con moto finale which would be well suited to pianola treatment. The sonata ends as if the composer has rolled up his bed-clothes and wandered off into the rising day.

On disc 2 we have a Moderne Suite in six movements. The music is typically pleasing if hardly earth-shattering - 'earth-shattering' is not Mendelssohn's way. Most of the movements carry Baroque titles but there's a Walzer and a Vorspiel for variety. The Gigue finale at 3:32 goes on for a minute or two longer than its idea sustains. The Piano Sonata in E Minor is unexceptionably genial and its strength lies especially in the 14:00 opening Allegro. After a nicely couched Allegro alla marcia comes a dimly lit romantic, and finally explosive, Allegro ostinato as a finale. The valedictory Albumblatt is smoothly paced and good-tempered.

The disc's artist profile reveals that Sternlicht began her studies at the State Music Academy in Warsaw. After a spell in Paris she moved to Berlin in 1977 where she makes her way as a freelance musician and a lecturer at the Universität der Künste.

There we go: pleasing music that it is good to know and know about but not revolutionary, not disturbing, not rattling any cages.

Rob Barnett


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