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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Variations concertantes, Op.17 (1829) [8:44]
Lied ohne Worte, Op.19a no.1 (arr. A. Piatti) (1832) [2:42]
Sonata No.1 in B flat major, Op.45 (1838) [23:46]
Jägerlied: Lied ohne Worte, Op.19a no.3 (arr. A Piatti) (1832) [2:31]
Sonata no 2 in D major, Op.58 (1843) [24:07]
Assai tranquillo (1835) [2:28]
Lied ohne Worte, Op.109 (1845?) [4:30]
Venetiansiches Gondellied: lied ohne Worte, Op.19a no.6 (arr. A. Piatti) (1832) [3:36]
Antonio Meneses (cello), Gérard Wyss (piano)
rec. 9-11 June, 2007, Potton Hall, Suffolk, England
AVIE AV2140 [72:45]

This highly recommendable CD has at its heart excellent performances of Mendelssohn’s two sonatas for cello and piano. The other works he wrote for the same combination of instruments – the early ‘Variations concertantes’, ‘Assai tranquillo’ and the Opus 109 Lied ohne worte – are added. So too are three transcriptions from the Opus 19a set of Liedern ohne Worte, made by the great cellist and competent composer, Alfred Piatti, who worked with Mendelssohn in London and played the second cello sonata with the composer in London in 1845. This CD should appeal to completists and to those of us who simply love high quality chamber music well performed and well recorded.

The first of Mendelssohn’s two sonatas begins with an allegro vivace which works its sonata form out in a wholly predictable (and wholly satisfying) fashion; the interplay of the two instruments forms a rich dialogue, the piano never in danger of becoming a mere support for the cello; in the andante which follows that sense of dialogue continues, though the cello sings with particular lyricism and beauty in the foreground of the movement’s central section; here and elsewhere the sound of Antonio Menseses’ 1730 cello, made in Naples by Alessandro Gagliano, is particularly well captured by the recording (Simon Fox-Gál, as producer and engineer deserves a name-check); Mendelssohn’s melodic invention is particularly delightful in this movement (which closes with the pianist getting a chance to hog the limelight). The finale (marked allegro assai) is both playful and passionate, the writing harmonically subtle and sometimes unexpected. This first sonata has too often been overshadowed by the second; it has genuine merits and charms of its own.

Still, it is true that in the second sonata we encounter music of greater complexity and sweep. This has every claim to a distinguished place in the canon of the genre, a fitting successor to Beethoven’s sonatas and predecessor to Brahms’ two sonatas. In this performance the main theme of the first movement goes with an utterly persuasive swing and the second movement (marked allegretto scherzando) sounds delightfully spontaneous. Indeed, these performances as a whole are characterised by that simultaneous air of spontaneity and thorough preparation which is the hallmark of the best recordings. The adagio of this second sonata is one of the most memorable movements in Mendelssohn’s chamber music, inward looking music of considerable pathos, imbued with a sense of spirituality and faith. Meneses is heard at something like his considerable best here, and Gérard Wyss leaves the listener in no doubt as to why he is so much in demand as an accompanist and chamber musician. Equally convincing is their reading of the far more extrovert finale, by turns delighted and angry.

None of the other music rises to the heights (or emotional depths) of these two sonatas. But all of it has, at the very least, charm and melodic beauty. And it is all played with conviction and fluid grace. Meneses and Wyss clearly have the utmost confidence in one another’s playing and their musical partnership has about it an audible joy which communicates itself to the listener.

This deserves a place alongside the best recordings of Mendelssohn’s music for cello and piano. All lovers of Mendelssohn, or devotees of chamber music, will surely find a great deal to enjoy here.

Glyn Pursglove


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