MENDELSSOHN Complete Works for Cello and Piano
R Larry Todd will be familiar to many readers as a Mendelssohn scholar. Clearly he’s an able pianist too, which is just as well in this repertoire. A good marker is the introduction to the slow movement of the Second Sonata, where Todd is clear-sighted and direct, qualities emphasised by the relatively dry acoustic; Huw Watkins is a little more yielding here. When the cello finally enters, Nancy Green is intense in tone, Paul Watkins as natural-sounding as his brother; but it is Steven Isserlis who finds the greatest degree of desolation. In the first movement Green and Todd are a touch steadier than exuberant Isserlis and Watkins, though they capture the scherzando spirit of the second movement well. In the First Sonata the outer movements come off best, the inner movement perhaps a touch sedate: though it’s an Andante, it’s a capricious one, as the faster-paced Isserlis and Tan understand well. Again, Isserlis turns the Op 109 Song Without Words into a miracle of understatement. Green is more obviously emotional from the start, though she is restraint itself compared to Maisky’s hyper-reactive, hyper-slow reading.
So, given the competition, is there a reason to choose Green, apart from Todd’s fascinating notes? Well, there are some intriguing additions. The two pieces by Fanny Mendelssohn reveal, as ever, a huge talent lost to the composing world by the expectations of society. In the Fantasia, though, I did wonder if the faster section would have benefited from slightly less vibrato and a greater degree of whimsy. She wrote these two pieces for her brother Paul, the dedicatee of Felix’s Variations concertantes. Todd has completed an abandoned variation from that set, which is a nice touch, if more of academic than musical interest. More substantial by far is Todd’s realisation of the missing cello part of a set of variations which Mendelssohn wrote in 1830 for the Viennese cellist Josef Merk. Todd has clearly had some fun with these but to be honest I’d have difficulty in recognising this as the hand of Mendelssohn and the result sounds – perhaps inevitably – a touch generic.