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Fanny & Felix
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-47)
Concerto in D minor for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra (36:45)
Selected songs arr. for string orchestra (10:38):
Dämmrung senkte sich von oben, H-U 392 (2:14)
Im Herbst, H-U 407 (2:14)
Harfners Lied, H-U 162 (3:04)
Traurige Wege, H-U 380 (3:06)
String Quartet in E flat major (21:51)
Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)
Musica Vitae/Malin Broman (violin/viola)
rec. 2018, Teater Palladium, Växjö, Sweden

Fanny & Felix is this disc’s title though at least one CD retail website lists it as “Felix and Fanny”, perhaps in a nod to the presumed precedence of an earlier era. Felix has just the one work on the disc, but still dominates in terms of playing time, his big Double Concerto (with its eighteen minute first movement) needing more than all of the four songs and the string quartet by his brilliant sister. Those songs are arranged for viola and piano. The quartet is arranged for string orchestra, although we are not told by whom. The Swedish string orchestra, Musica Vitae is directed by violinist Malin Broman, who also plays the viola for the songs, accompanied by pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips. Broman and Crawford-Phillips are the soloists in Felix’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Orchestra.

That work, written when the composer was 14 years old, makes a fine opening to this enterprising disc. After all the boy had written his twelve string symphonies by then, so the writing for string orchestra is very practised. The Bachian drive of the opening tutti is impressive and so are the bold, annunciatory entries for each of the soloists. There is plenty of invention – and sheer musical fun - in the exchanges between the two soloists. (Try the passage from 5:00 up to 6:16). The second theme in the tutti is kept a tempo, but Broman relaxes more into its lyrical character when she has it solo. There is a startling modulation at 6:48, heralding an extended slower more intimate passage. The presto coda dazzles as the young composer clearly intended. The Adagio middle movement has restrained muted strings and becomes a duet for the soloists, which they both relish. They launch the finale, con fuoco, with energy and impetus and this is perhaps the movement that sounds most characteristically Mendelssohnian.

The string quartet by Fanny sounds in fact more original, especially in its Adagio ma non troppo first movement. The second movement, a lightly scampering Allegretto would make a good quiz item. Asked to guess the composer most of us would shout “Mendelssohn” and we would be right. Perhaps those fairy music scherzos are a sibling trademark – Felix always passed his work to his big sister for advice. The Romanza is the poised and touching heart of the work, played with fine feeling by Musica Vitae, and the Allegro molto vivace finale is a delight – the track the radio stations should play, teasingly unannounced. The arrangement sounds entirely idiomatic; I doubt anyone coming new to this splendid piece would guess the work’s string quartet origins.

The arrangements of four of Fanny’s very many songs, for viola and piano, are also charming and the selection is varied. The warmth of the viola makes an ideal stand-in for the human voice and Broman plays the instrument as impeccably as she does the violin. The recording is good throughout and the too brief booklet notes are of interest as far as they go – which is not very far, as there is little on the substance of the music itself. Comparisons are hardly relevant when only Felix’s piece has exact rivals and if that is the work you are mostly interested in then you should investigate an amazing SACD – a single BIS disc from 2008 with a playing time of 4½ hours of all Felix’s concertos – where the work is given a very accomplished performance indeed by Isabelle van Keulen and Ronald Brautigam. But otherwise, Fanny’s works are the main reason to hear this excellent issue.

Roy Westbrook

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