MENDELSSOHN Cello Sonatas Nos 1 & 2. Song Without Words
Both of Mendelssohn’s splendidly assured cello sonatas and the Variations concertantes were composed for his brother Paul to play, and the engaging Variations were dedicated to him. So the brotherly team of Paul and Huw Watkins, each a distinguished musician in his own right, makes an ideal partnership for these attractive works.
The Variations, written when the composer was only a precocious 19, show him in characteristically appealing melodic style. The Song Without Words is the only work in this format (which Mendelsssohn again made his own) and has an impetuous middle section to give the cellist a chance for momentary virtuosity. The two sonatas lie somewhere between Beethoven and Brahms but still have Mendlessohn’s own stamp of fresh individuality. The First Sonata is notable for its characteristic central Andante, essentially an intermezzo with a touch of wistfulness, while the finale, which recalls the flavour of the opening movement, is all but a rondo which gains in eloquence and ends peacefully. The Second Sonata (written five years later, in 1843) in the bustle of its opening Allegro assai vivace immediately evokes the vigour of the Italian Symphony. The Allegro scherzando which follows is crisply rhythmic, while the Adagio brings a deeply expressive chorale main theme. The work then ends in exultant abandon.
There have been plenty of recommendable recordings of this music (including fine bargain versions by Richard Lester with Susan Tomes and Maria Kliegel with Kristin Merscher, each well worth its modest cost) but this finely balanced and recorded Chandos CD now stands high on the list of recommendations.