Here are two splendid and enjoyable discs of Mendelssohn from
Avie. Both would be worth having even if you already have other
versions of these works, Both left me eager to repeat hearing
them, although the real winner came as a surprise to me.
I had high expectation of hearing the Piano Trios played with
a fortepiano; performances on modern instruments can have problems
of balance and integrating the sounds of the instruments. Certainly
there are gains here, and the actual sound of the fortepiano –
by Franz Rausch of Vienna from about 1841 – is delightfully appropriate
when played softly or when the string instruments are not playing.
Unfortunately the balance as heard here favours the strings too
much, especially the cello. Tanya Tomkins plays for much of the
time in a way that suggests that she sees her part as essentially
a solo. When it is, that is fine, and she phrases with great sensitivity
and understanding, but given any chance she is inclined to dominate
the texture, often destroying the complexity of what is going
on in the process. I suspect that this may be more due to the
recording than the playing, but the result is to reduce the listener’s
enjoyment of these wonderful works.
Having said that, the pleasure of hearing the music played on
such a fine keyboard instrument and with just the right mixture
of eagerness and restraint still makes the disc well worth hearing,
especially if you are used to hearing these works played on the
I also expected to enjoy the other disc, as both works are somewhat
neglected. This is understandable but both can nonetheless be
real delights in the right hands. They are certainly that here.
The Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings is one of the many
early works that the composer wrote for performance at the Sunday
concerts given at his family’s home. The original soloists were
Eduard Rietz, the composer’s violin teacher, and the composer
himself on the piano. After a single public performance a few
months later the work was next played in 1957.
A similar neglect affected the F major Violin Sonata written in
1838 - not to be confused with the much earlier one in the same
key. Although he completed it, the composer had doubts about its
quality and it was neither performed nor published in his lifetime.
It was not until Yehudi Menuhin edited it for publication in 1953
that it received its first performance. I must admit that until
I heard the present recording I had shared the composer’s view,
but now I am convinced that, even if not one of his greatest works,
it has strong merits and is well worth hearing. That is largely
down to the quality of this performance which has all the dash
and fluency necessary to carry off what can seem rather wooden
rhythms in the first movement, as well as a very affecting approach
to the middle movement - there are only three movements.
Similar virtues can be found in the Concerto, whose episodic nature
can make it fall apart. Somehow the sheer spirit and vigour of
the performance makes this less relevant and the imagination and
variety of the various episodes become more apparent. I have listened
to both works repeatedly with growing pleasure. Both of these
discs have special reasons to be in the collection of anyone interested
in the composer, but if you can afford only one, make it that
of the Concerto and Sonata which brings these two neglected works
to very real life.