F&F MENDELSSOHN Piano Sextet. Piano Quartet. Piano Trio

Record and Artist Details

Genre:

Chamber

Label: Chandos

Media Format: CD or Download

Media Runtime: 68

Mastering:

DDD

Catalogue Number: CHAN20256

CHAN20256. F&F MENDELSSOHN Piano Sextet. Piano Quartet. Piano Trio

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
Sextet Felix Mendelssohn, Composer
Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective
Piano Trio Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, Composer
Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective
String Quartet Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, Composer
Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective

Another month, another Fanny-and-Felix pairing. Not that I’m complaining when the results are as exhilarating as this. Over the past decade or so Fanny’s Piano Trio, like Clara Schumann’s, has, happily, edged into the regular repertoire. And for my money Fanny’s is the finer, certainly the more daring and impassioned, of the two. The torrential first movement, especially, holds its own against anything in her brother’s trios. What, one wonders, might Fanny have gone on to achieve had she not died suddenly, aged just 41, a month after the Trio’s 1847 premiere?

Fanny’s own keyboard virtuosity is to the fore in the outer movements. Risking faster speeds than any of his rivals on disc, pianist Tom Poster is unfazed, dispatching the fiendish figuration with mingled fire and subtlety, careful never to overwhelm the ever-sensitive strings. With natural, spontaneous-sounding tempo fluctuations and a wide dynamic range, they respond eagerly to the first movement’s restless ebb and flow, through the ferociously swirling ff recapitulation – a thrilling moment – to the tense stillness of the coda. The players bring an ideal gentle flexibility to the intermezzo-like middle movements, while Poster teasingly plays up the finale’s faintly Spanish (or is it Hungarian gypsy?) caprice before the strings surge into the fray.

If neither of the other works on the programme reaches the level of Fanny’s masterpiece, both are enjoyable, and dispatched with similar panache by the Kaleidoscope Collective. Composed when she was just 17, Fanny’s Piano Quartet is a real rarity (I could only trace one previous recording). Field and Hummel are the obvious influences in music that sometimes veers towards a scaled-down piano concerto. Keeping the textures light and sparkling, Poster again combines virtuoso flair – not least in the rampaging octaves at the climax of the first movement’s development – with nuanced elegance. Fanny marks the finale Tempo di menuetto, and that’s how it emerges on the rival recording by the Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet (Troubadisc). Poster and his string accomplices opt for a more flowing tempo and turn the movement, delightfully, into a waltz of slightly skewed grace.

As for the 15-year-old Felix’s Mozart-meets-Weber Piano Sextet, the Kaleidoscope’s scintillating performance perfectly bears out Goethe’s verdict on the teenage composer (‘he has the minimum of the phlegmatic, and the maximum of the opposite quality’). Tempos are fleet and mercurial, and the players are careful to mitigate the dangers of bass-heaviness in a work scored, unusually, for violin, two violas, cello and bass. Poster skips and frolics through the rather splashy finale at a speed on the edge of the possible, to the occasional discomfiture of the strings. Elsewhere the players perfectly catch the ingenuous sweetness of the Adagio, phrasing in long spans, while their urgent tempo pays dividends in the nervously darting D minor Menuetto, an early example of the agitato vein that Mendelssohn would make his own. The recording, made in the sympathetic acoustic of Potton Hall in Suffolk, is ideally balanced, and Bayan Northcott contributes a stimulating booklet note. In sum, an exuberant, brilliantly executed celebration of the most prodigious brother-sister double act in music history.

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