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Fanny MENDELSSOHN (1805-1847)
Piano Works:-

Allegro con brio No. 4 WV 304 (1836) [5:23]
Allegro grazioso No. 1 WV 294 (1836) [4:59]
Allegro agitato No. 7 WV 300 (1836) [6:06]
Largo con espressione No. 9 WV 322 (1837) [6:55]
Allegro vivace WV 459 (1846) [2:56]
Presto No. 2 WV 459 (1846) [2:44]
Sonata o Capriccio, WV 113 (no date) [6:49]
Allegro agitato WV 302 (1836) [5:20]
Fantasia WV 253 (1830) [6:02]
Klavierstück in e minor WV 393 (1843) [4:02]
Klavierstück in g minor WV 403 (1844) [3:07]
Capriccio No. 10 WV 308 (1836/7) [8:46]
Elżbieta Sternlicht, piano

rec. Ballhaus Naunynstrasse, Berlin, 24-27 June 2005. DDD
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To tell the tale of the composer of these works being premiered here on this disc is to tell the tale of a misguided father and to explore the remnants of what could perhaps have been a wonderful career. From listening to these works of Fanny Mendelssohn, she had all of the talent of her brother. Their father, however, made it known that there would be only one composer in the family and that would be Felix. Fanny should instead focus on being a good wife to someone.

Luckily for Fanny, and for music lovers in our time, she married someone with rather more liberal views on her composing. During her married years she composed quite a bit of chamber music, piano pieces and songs. By the time her father died, her brother Felix had espoused the same view regarding Fanny’s composing: she shouldn’t publish her works. This of course didn’t stand in the way of Felix’s including some of her pieces in his published work and representing them as his own. With the support of her husband, she finally made the decision to collect and publish some of her works. She died early, at 41.

As Felix Mendelssohn realized, the piano pieces presented here are on a par with his own, calling to mind especially his Songs without Words. Quite a few of the pieces here have fire and invention burning in them. The largo con espressione No. 9 written in 1837 is a standout, with uneasy changes in its funeral march chords that later melt into a lovely section in relative major mode.

For this reviewer, the Allegro grazioso No. 1 alone makes this disc worth purchasing. The opening theme that sings forth immediately recalls the work of her more famous brother, but also conjures the ghost of a Brahms intermezzo. A great surprise — and one that will bring the listener to hear this piece again and again — is the second section, which plunges us right into the second movement of the Brahms second piano concerto. The theme is uncannily similar to that work, written almost forty years later. This is a work of great beauty, played with wonderful restraint by Sternlicht.

At her lightest, Fanny Mendelssohn’s works recall her brother’s lighter moments in his own piano pieces. Occasionally, as above, she achieves something great, which affords us a glimpse of what she could have been without obstacles keeping her from the composing she was surely meant to do.

These world premiere recordings sound very good and are beautifully played by Sternlicht, who has also done a wonderful job performing far different repertoire with two discs of Jozef Koffler’s works, also on Acte Préalable. It is a pity that Fanny Mendelssohn didn’t get her due recognition outside of musical soirées at her home, but this disc — and others on other labels — take us another step toward that end. A truly enjoyable recording.

David Blomenberg

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