> Fanny and Fellix Mendelssohn Piano Trios M001052 [RB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Felix and Fanny MENDELSSOHN
Felix MENDELSSOHN, (1809-1847).
Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66

Fanny MENDELSSOHN, (1805-1847).
Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 11

The Atlantis Trio: Jaap Schröder (violin), Enid Sutherland (cello), Penelope Crawford (fortepiano)
Recorded March 2001 in the Chapel of our Lady of Providence Center, Northville, Michigan, USA

Bonus Disc: The MENDELSSOHNs: members of The Atlantis Trio explore the artist’s place in high society
MUSICA OMNIA M00105 2 CDs [56:48+23:55]

Victorian high society worshipped Felix Mendelssohn, and you could not get higher than Queen Victoria and her Consort, Prince Albert, who were among his most ardent admirers. Mendelssohn seemed to have all the talents – youthful high spirits, sensitivity, a gentle romanticism and, above all, a precocious musical genius. It is easy to see why the Songs without words appealed to parlour pianists, but his fluency and refinement easily overcame whatever concessions he may have made to public taste, and works such as the Scottish and Italian Symphonies, Hebrides Overture and E minor Violin Concerto have proved durable audience-pleasers. However, the time has perhaps come for a reassessment of his more intimate chamber works. The three Piano Quartets and six string quartets span Mendelssohn’s creative life and, next to the Octet, the two Piano Trios are among his most frequently played chamber works. On this disc the performances are on gut-strung string instruments and a Graf fortepiano.

Every important artistic movement passes through three phases. In the first the artist fashions the idiom, in the second it comes more readily to hand and in the third he is driven to new ways of using it. Both Mendelssohns had reached the third phase of the romantic movement in music, where the structural disciplines of nineteenth-century classical sonata form are replaced by a more adventurous kind of "through composition". Relatively little thematic material is repeated completely, and more latitude is given to the open-textured writing that is Mendelssohn’s hallmark. The C minor Trio shows Mendelssohn in full command of the medium: formally fastidious, yet inventive and constantly pleasing.

It is interesting – and appropriate – that instead of Felix’s first Trio (which Schumann called the "the master trio of our time") the Atlantis players chose the lesser-known Trio Op, 11 by his sister Fanny for this disc. Women composers were rare birds in the nineteenth century, and Fanny faced the additional embarrassment of her brother’s formidable reputation. However, the work stands firmly on its merits and rises easily above salon prettiness. The writing is less cohesive and finely-wrought than her brother’s, but Fanny was well equipped to meet the demands of an extended four movement work which inhabits the lyrical world of her songs and piano pieces. The emotional temperature is higher (or perhaps nearer the surface) and the structural approach more episodic compared with Felix’s evolutionary treatment of his material. The third movement Lied: allegretto, clearly a "song without words", points to the nineteenth century taste for vocal music in concert arrangements and instrumental transcriptions and, in this case, brings a lowering of the emotional temperature.

The discussion by members of the Atlantis Trio illustrated by extracts from both works, is intelligent and informal though, with a playing time of 24 minutes, I am not sure that listeners will find that it adds a great deal to the enjoyment of performances themselves, especially since the 21-page insert leaflet is itself highly informative. Naturally the players are enthusiastic about their "historically informed" approach. I am not so sure. Brilliantly played though it is in some passages the Graf’s crisp, forward tone and resonant middle register tends to dominate the quieter-sounding strings and leads in places to an imbalance that might not be noticeable in a concert hall, but occasionally becomes obtrusive in this recording.

Tragically both Felix and Fanny died young in the year after these works were written. Felix’s last Quartet, the most sombre and intimate of his chamber works, reflects the grief he felt at the loss of his sister.

Roy D. Brewer

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