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Fanny MENDELSSOHN-HENSEL (1805-1847)
Piano Quartet in A flat Major (1822) [16:49]
Capriccio in A flat Major for piano and cello (1829) [7:33]
Sonata o Fantasia in G minor for piano and cello (c. 1829) [5:49]
Piano Trio in D minor op. 11(1846-1847) [23:43]
CÚline Dutilly (piano), Friedemann Kupsa (cello), Renate Eggebrecht (violin)
Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet
rec. 1988-2003, Tonstudio Teije van Geest, Clara Wieck Auditorium, Sandhausen, Germany
First recordings: Quartet, Sonata

The music of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel – and of Clara Schumann – is now better served by the record companies. I just reviewed a disc with their Piano Trios (Hyperion CDA68307). This highly appealing disc also includes Mendelssohn’s Trio but recorded thirty years ago, when this repertoire was more unusual; the release featured two premiere recordings.

The disc opens with a flowing account of the Piano Quartet, composed between May and November 1822 when Fanny Mendelssohn was seventeen. The work is quite mature nonetheless, especially the piano writing, to be expected because the composer was a pianist herself. The work is well constructed, and the string instruments certainly play their part in this romantic work. I only know one other recording of this work, and on the same label (TROCD 01408), with probably the same string players and another pianist, Stefan Mickisch. Despite its earlier catalogue number, it was recorded later. I tend to prefer this recording; its slightly brisker tempi work well in bringing out the character of this music.

I would say the same about the Piano Trio, clearly the finest work on this disc, and a near masterpiece. The composition began at the end of 1846 and carried into the following year. Fanny Mendelssohn wrote in her diary in March “I am busy with a trio which causes me a lot of trouble” but she completed the work shortly after. She played through the work at a family concert to celebrate her sister Rebekka’s birthday on the 11th of April. Sadly, it was whilst rehersing for a performance of the Trio on the 14th of May that she died (apparently of a stroke but a fit caused by breathing difficulties is now often mentioned). The work shows the depth of the composer’s skill and technique, and is highly rewarding. Its romantic qualities are greatly developed when compared to the Piano Quartet, and that makes it a much stronger and a more individual work. Both Troubadisc recordings are fine but the clarity of phrasing and greater emphasis on detail still make the Nash Ensemble’s performance on Hyperion my favourite for the Trio. Not by much, though, and it very much depends on which coupling you prefer.

The two works for cello and piano, the Capriccio in A flat and the Sonata o Fantasia in G minor, were probably composed in or shortly before 1829. Both are new to me. These fine works were composed for the composer’s brother Paul, who is said to have been an excellent cellist who played a Stradivarius. Each works is cast in a single movement and three distinct sections with differing challenges for the cellist and the pianist. They are full of romantic gestures and character, and make fitting accompaniment for the two main works on this disc.

The playing in all these works is enjoyable.There is a very good sense of ensemble, and the players seem to relish playing this music and to enjoy themselves. The recorded sound is very good. The excellent booklet notes by the violinist on this recording, Renate Eggebrecht, give good insight into the music performed here as well as the composer’s life. (I feel sorry for the poor unnamed violist, just a member the Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet. As I stressed, it does not quite topple the Nash Ensemble when it comes to the Piano Trio. Even so, anyone looking for the chamber music of Fanny Mendelssohn should snap this disc up whilst they can.

Stuart Sillitoe

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