RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847)
Songs Without Words, Book 1, Op 19b [13:52]
Songs Without Words, Book 2, Op 30 [15:23]
Songs Without Words, Book 3, Op 38 [13:29]
Songs Without Words, Book 4, Op 53 [14:53]
Five unpublished Songs Without Words (1828-1837) [10:02]
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
rec. August 2011, Österåker Church, Sweden
BIS BIS-SACD-1982 [69:19]
Ronald Brautigam’s Mendelssohn is so good it’s easy not to notice how good it is. That is, this playing feels so natural, so effortless, so perfectly songlike (cantabile!) that it’s tempting to think, “why wouldn’t the music sound like this?”
That said, an awful lot of skill went into this recital of twenty-nine Songs Without Words (including five which, unpublished, are omitted from many “complete” recordings). Listen to how Brautigam is always able to “float” the melody over its accompaniment without making the melodic notes feel forced or over-emphasized; listen to how the long line is preserved so that you can easily imagine the broader “songs” (say, Op. 30/5) being sung from start to completion. Listen, in the very first track, to how incredibly busy Brautigam is keeping his left hand without showing any strain, and without letting the melody sag for a second. Occasional rubato, the most tasteful of pauses and delayed chords: Brautigam uses many an artistic trick without ever seeming to be trying at all. A lot of these selections are played very quickly, which makes their ease and luminous beauty all the more impressive. The first four books take 58 minutes, versus Michael Korstick’s 62. It all sounds natural. This Mendelssohn breathes like a living thing.
There are two things left to be praised: the sound, up to BIS’s atmospheric standards - more resonant and less dry than, say, Hyperion’s piano recitals; I prefer the BIS style. The piano is a Paul McNulty fortepiano built in 2010 after an 1830 Pleyel. It is a superb instrument, and although the 1830s Grafs are the warmest instruments of all to my ears, this one is very well-suited to the music at hand. If you don’t think a fortepiano can sing, think again. A superb recital.
A superb period-instrument recital; Mendelssohn so well-played it’s easy to take Brautigam for granted.
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