Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Songs without Words
Michael Endres (piano)
rec. March 2012, April 2013, Klaus-von-Bismarck-Saal, Funkhaus, Cologne
OEHMS CLASSICS OC452 [62:58 + 54:55]

Michael Endres has flown under the radar for many years; his preference for teaching instead of concert-giving, and his low publicity profile, have hidden a man who is, in fact, one of the best pianists of his generation. Endres excels in a wide repertoire, from his reference-caliber recordings of the Mozart and Schubert sonatas to a disc of Arnold Bax (which our review says is played “with a real sense of direction and control….top-drawer”).

My colleague Dominy Clements made a few comments about this pianist’s Schubert, which make a good starting-point in discussing his Mendelssohn. “Endres’ approach is uncomplicated but certainly by no means shallow.” “Endres is unsentimental, faithful to the score, and sensitive to the song-like passages that provide the contrast to all that repetitive bridgework.”

Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words are all song-like passages and next to no bridgework, of course, but those comments remain true of this recording. Uncomplicated is a good way to describe the performer’s approach here, which is uncluttered by idiosyncrasies, willful indulgences, look-at-me showiness, or dubious Big Ideas. It’s easier to describe Endres by what he doesn’t do, than to describe him by what he does, since his primary achievement is to avoid so many pitfalls. He is lyrical without gushing, and achieves a true “song” spirit with each melody, while avoiding the temptation to become a diva.

Tempos resist categorization: I can’t say that Endres is consistently faster or slower than normal. He does what feels “right” for each work, with the end goal of making each melody feel truly singable. This is a pianist of formidable technical skill, as you’re reminded with his fleet-fingered accompaniments or in Mendelssohn’s occasional bursts of virtuoso flair, like CD 2 track 15. But the technical prowess is not this album’s biggest strength, which is its plain-speaking eloquence.

Superb recorded sound from Oehms and its German engineers. I hope that Endres will be soon back in the studio for more Mendelssohn—maybe his extraordinary but little-known Preludes and Fugues, Op. 35, coupled with the Sonata and the Variations sérieuses? If only record labels took requests!

As a post-script, if you are new to the artistry of Michael Endres, a few works which show him at his formidable, indeed spectacular, best include the Schumann Kreisleriana, Ravel Tombeau de Couperin, youthful sonatas by Schubert, and, maybe surprisingly, the Gershwin songbook.

Brian Reinhart

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