Fanny MENDELSSOHN-HENSEL (1805-1847)
Piano works
Allegro molto in C minor (1846) [3:25]
Nocturne in G minor (1838) [4:43]
Piano Sonata in C minor (1824) [13:47]
Lied in E flat (1846) [7:08]
Piano Sonata in G minor (1843) [17:42]
Adagio in E flat (1840-43) [3:50]
Andante con moto in E major (1846) [5:44]
Sonata o Capriccio (1824) [7:01]
Allegro molto agitato in D minor (1823) [1:45]
Schluss (1823) [2:13]
Heather Schmidt (piano)
rec. 5-6 November, 2007, Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto, Canada
NAXOS 8.570825 [67:18]

 

Naxos is doing well by Fanny Mendelssohn, as itís evinced dedication to her songs, which are part on an unfurling series from the company. In this release we have piano works, ones moreover that span the years 1823 to 1846; thatís to say between the ages of 18 and 40. She died in 1847 at the age of 41.

Though the titles of most of these works are utilitarian rather than poetically descriptive that canít hide the craft, seriousness and lyric immediacy of them. They prove to be splendid works, fully worthy to be set in the context of compositions written in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. The Allegro molto of 1846 for example is a dynamic outpouring, striking for the incessant reiteration of its passionate declamation. The warmly evocative Notturno in G minor recalls the ethos of her brother Felix but even as early as the 1824 Sonata in C minor one finds her deft architectural and expressive sensibilities were in full flow. Themes are well contrasted, the slow movement warmly textured and thereís confident brio in the dramatic finale.

The companion sonata of 1843 is perhaps her greatest achievement in this medium. It starts as it means to go on - tautly, even a touch brusquely, certainly tense in places. This is music in a hurry, with no concessions to post-Rococo frippery. But itís also a lively kind of lyricism into which she manages to vest a somewhat reflective, quietly melancholy spirit. Her scherzo is exciting, albeit a touch wistful, and not at all gossamer, whilst the slow movementís lyricism is offset by its reflective spirit. Once more her finale proves powerful but not granitic. A work such as this shows her awareness of the more athletic and the more pessimistic sides of her own compositional nature.

The Lied may refer tangentially to Felixís Songs without Words and its lyricism is indeed infused with drama and songful narrative. Of the other works none is less than worthwhile. The Sonata o Capriccio does have a strange title, seemingly unable to work out which it is, but itís a delight to listen to. Thereís a brief but intense, powerful octave study in the shape of Allegro molto agitato, and a Bach-evoking Schluss.

The fine mediator between Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel and the listener is Heather Schmidt, who plays with genuine verve and an animated refinement, catching the seeming paradoxes embedded in some of the music with great assurance. Sheís been backed up by some well calibrated engineering as well.

Jonathan Woolf