Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Songs Without Words
Book One, Op. 19b (1829-30) [16:46]
Book Two, Op. 30 (1833-34) [18:01]
Book Three, Op. 38 (1836-37) 14:48]
Book Four, Op. 53 (1839-41) [17:06]
Book Five, Op. 62 (1842-44) [15:29]
Book Six, Op. 67 (1843-45) [14:50]
Book Seven, Op. 85 (1834-45) [13:11]
Book Eight, Op. 102 (1842-45) [13:09]
Boat Song, Op. posth [2:05]
Andante and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 14 (1824) [6:44]
Ania Dorfmann (piano)
rec. 1955-56, Webster Hall, New York; January 1953, Town Hall, New York (Andante and Rondo Capriccioso, Op.14)
PRISTINE AUDIO PAKM069 [66:46 + 65:38]
This wasn’t the first complete recording of Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words. That honour fell to Ginette Doyen, whose Westminster LPs, whilst hardly enjoying the promotional backing of Ania Dorfmann’s RCA Victors, were nevertheless the first into the lists. Incidentally a number of Doyen’s recordings have been remastered for CD over the last few years though I’m still waiting for the appearance of the complete cycle of the Beethoven Violin sonatas made with her husband Jean Fournier. Back to Dorfmann (1899-1984), the Odessa-born pianist whose name on disc is almost inextricably linked to Mendelssohn and Beethoven; her recording with Toscanini of Beethoven’s First Concerto was for some time the most visible example of her studio recordings. Of late however it’s her studio inscriptions of Mendelssohn’s G minor Concerto that have garnered her most renown; firstly the pre-war 78 set with Walter Goehr and then the LP remake with the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra of Philadelphia and Erich Leinsdorf (on PAKM066).
So, it’s fitting that Pristine Audio should release her Songs without Words recording made between October 1955 and August 1956 in Webster Halll, New York. There are actually 49 Songs because the Boat Song, Opus posthumous is included. So too is the Andante and Rondo Capriccioso, Op.14 recorded in Town Hall, NY in January 1953 which was issued at the time along with two Songs without Words. These last two became, in effect, redundant when she brought out the complete cycle.
Each of the ‘48’ is warmly textured and richly characterised. Those elements that so informed her performances of the G minor Concerto – the play of dynamism and sentiment – are present here to a compressed degree. She brings sympathetic directness to Op.10 No.4, beautiful tone to Op.30 No.1, an athletic sweep to Op.30 No.4, and a deft awareness of the rivulet running of Op.30 No.5. The meditative, introspective qualities of Op.53 No.4 are honoured as are the witty voicings of Op.53 No.6. To the grave intimations of Op.62 No.3 she responds with equal gravity and she brings lightness to the famous Spring Song, Op.62 No.6. Her unveiling of the zephyrs in Op.102 No.4 is beguiling. She always brings textual warmth to the pieces and is never guilty of generic responses. The Andante and Rondo Capriccioso is controlled, elegant and eloquent; it’s not used as a vehicle for the demonstration of virtuoso Úlan.
These excellently engineered monos sound fine in Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfers. It’s rewarding to see Ania Dorfmann’s discography yet more widely available on CD.