This is a most appealing programme, with disc 1 devoted to the four sonatas (five if you include the Sonate écossaise – or ‘écoissaise’, as the track-listing has it – otherwise known as the Fantasy in F sharp minor, Op 28) and disc 2 to a succession of scherzos, capriccios and fantasias. This is Roberto Prosseda’s fifth disc of Mendelssohn’s piano works for Decca (I have not heard the others) and his evident love of the music comes across in his persuasive booklet.
I began with the first track on disc 2, the evergreen Andante and Rondo (‘Rondò’ in the booklet) capriccioso. My first reaction was to wince at the piano sound, the kind that makes you long for analogue in the old Kingsway Hall or shellac in the small Queen’s Hall studio. You can almost smell the disinfectant, such is the merciless clarity of the acoustic produced by the laboratory that is the Tau Recording Studio, Acireate, Italy. A by-product of the engineering is the all-too-audible muffled thud of the sustaining pedal’s action throughout both discs. Perhaps others will find this less of a distraction than I did.
As to the playing, this volume is well named, for Prosseda has a fiery and fluent technique. Charm, however, is not one of his strong suits, Op 14 being a case in point, while in those works of unrelenting note-spinning – and there are quite a lot – Prosseda dispatches the pages of semiquavers with electrifying precision and flair but with little tenderness or tonal allure. Take the final section of the Fantasy, Op 28. This is played at a true presto with great power and sonority – there were moments when I thought I was listening to an Alkan étude – but there are few concessions to Mendelssohn’s dynamics eloquently, if less thrillingly, executed by Benjamin Frith on his highly desirable Naxos cycle. When the composer requests con fuoco, you realise Prosseda has already been doing just that for the previous few pages. Nevertheless, despite these reservations, the two CDs offer a rare chance to hear these undervalued works side by side and piano lovers must be grateful for Prosseda’s determined advocacy.