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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in F major (1838) [23:16]
Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings (1823) [36:09]
Rudens Turku (violin); Oliver Schnyder (piano)
Capella Istropolitana/Ariel Zuckermann
rec. 14-18 December 2008, Grosser Saal, Franz Liszt Zentrum, Raiding, Austria
AVIE AV2170 [59:33]

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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Trio in C minor Op 66 [30:28]
Piano Trio in D minor [29:15]
The Benvenue Fortepiano Trio (Eric Zivian (fortepiano); Monica Huggett (violin); Tanya Tomkins (cello))
rec. 10-12 March 2009, Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California
AVIE AV2187 [59:43]

Experience Classicsonline

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 modern piano.
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.

John Sheppard


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