Ė Gramophone is emblazoned on the
front of the booklet of this disc. But
donít reach for the sunglasses just
yet. To start with, Mendelssohnís piano
sonatas are hardly dazzling music. Frederic
Chiuís playing is interesting and sensitive
but I remained unbedazzled. I was also
mean enough to find a review of the
original release of this disc on Gramofile
and, perhaps, should not have been surprised
that nowhere in it did the word "dazzling"
appear. Overall, the review was rather
lukewarm. Probably, somewhere in the
magazineís august pages the words "Chiu"
and "dazzling" are inextricably
linked but not here.
Enough carping! I suspect
I enjoyed this disc more than the Gramophone
reviewer and there is not a lot of competition
in the field. Mendelssohn sonatas are
all youthful works (a relative term
considering he died at the age of 38)
Ė the last appearing at the age of 18.
Those with an eye for keys and opus
numbers may already have spotted that
"Piano Sonata in B flat Op.106"
is not a unique musical occurrence.
This was not lost on Mendelssohn who
sent it to his sister, Fanny, as a birthday
present. Mendelssohnís "Hammerklavier"
is loosely modeled on the greatest of
all piano sonatas Ė four movements with
scherzo placed second. The opening theme
has a certain grandeur but the composer
never really intended to compete with
Beethoven and his andante and finale,
though charming, completely lack gravitas.
The whole sonata lasts 19 minutes and
40 seconds, over 2 minutes less than
the slow movement of Solomonís great
recording of the Hammerklavier.
The other sonatas are also enjoyable
without being great music. The G minor
is in three movements and was written
when Mendelssohn was 12, reminding us
that he was in the same division of
childhood prodigiousness as Mozart.
The rondo capriccioso is an attractive
bonus to complete the disc and reinforced
my notion that Mendelssohn was often
more inspired in short forms, at least
when writing for the piano.
The E major sonata
opens the disc and was the only piece
with which I was previously familiar.
Comparisons with Benjamin Frithís account
on Naxos (8.550940) revealed "swings
and roundabouts". Chiu is markedly
quicker in both inner movements, to
my mind advantageously so. However,
in both outer movements Frith seems
to capture the spirit of the music more
effectively. But both accounts are more
than acceptable. Frith seems to be recording
an extensive Mendelssohn series for
Naxos and his sonatas are spread between
discs. Thus Chiuís disc definitely has
a place and is the most obvious choice
for a single disc of Mendelssohnís sonatas,
particularly as it is now at bargain
The recorded sound
is very natural and the booklet contains
a useful essay on the sonatas by Chiu,
complete with musical illustrations.
All in all, this is worthy playing but
the music rarely fizzles or sizzles
and never dazzles.
Patrick C Waller