Two centuries ago, when transportation was crude and
recorded sound was non-existent, the only way for composers to bring
their music to a wider audience was through printed arrangements for
the piano, which could be played in the home. Publishers were more than
eager to provide the public with these arrangements, and they were consumed
avidly. Thus it is that many of the major symphonic and chamber works
of the nineteenth century also appeared in versions for piano solo,
two pianos or one piano, four hands.
Brahms, in order to make sure that no hack mangled
his music, made dozens of piano arrangements of his works himself. It
would appear that Mendelssohn wasn’t as concerned with quality control,
and produced far fewer works in the genre than did his younger colleague.
Much of the four-hand music of the day was intended for amateurs, and
therefore was not as technically demanding as music for the piano soloist.
Not so in this case, as it is evident that Mendelssohn put forth the
fullness of his virtuosity in his own piano arrangement of the Octet,
opus 20, and in the two works actually intended for four-hand piano
Originally for strings, the octet in this guise is
still a magnificent piece. Pianists Uriarte and Mrongovius give us some
very fine ensemble playing, and they take great care to shade and color
this music with fine brushes. I have often found that four-hand piano
literature is great fun to play and not so hot to listen to. Since it
is often the case that the full scope of the piano keyboard is sounding
at once, it is difficult to create the nuances of sound that one pianist
can accomplish by moving about the range of octaves. This duo sees to
it that a variance of color, articulation and dynamics are constantly
observed, engaging the listener from the get-go and keeping us tuned
in throughout the performance.
Using the piano as if it were and orchestra, these
two musicians are top notch. Melodic passages are truly cantabile, that
which needs articulation gets it, virtuoso sections are indeed thrilling,
and most important of all, they play in splendid ensemble.
Mendelssohn, in my view, was one of the master tunesmiths
of the nineteenth century. Sure, Schubert wrote some mighty fine songs,
but what Felix could do with a melody is often nothing short of miraculous.
This gift for melody is no more evident than in the thoroughly beautiful
Andante movement of the Andante e Allegro brilliant, opus 92,
from 1841. A late work, this is craftsmanship of the first order. And
as soon as the lovely song is finished, we are taken on a splendid carriage
ride in the allegro section. Again, our pianists are a delight.
We get another lovely tune in the Andante con Variazioni,
opus 83a, which along with the above-mentioned work were published
after Mendelssohn’s death. The variations are fun and sprightly, simultaneously
elegant and virtuosic.
Sound quality for this live recording is amazingly
good, with no detectable audience or background noise. As with many
a classical CD these days, the program notes are lame, and not particularly
insightful. At least they are grammatically correct and adequately translated
from their original German. Arts is another of the spate of inexpensive
classical labels that consistently offer a treasure trove of interesting
releases. This one is certainly worth seeking out.