MENDELSSOHN Piano Works – Chamayou
There was a time in the 19th century when Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words were regularly regarded as the third great collection of piano music after Beethoven’s 32 sonatas and Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues. Where Chopin’s piano music is still dominant, Mendelssohn’s star as a pianist-composer has faded. It is a splendid idea of the young Toulouse-born French pianist Bertrand Chamayou – encouraged to take up Mendelssohn’s piano music by his mentor, Murray Perahia – to choose five of the most striking Songs Without Words and make them a centrepiece for what he describes as a “Liederabend without words”.
The Songs Without Words are among the least difficult of the pieces here technically, but the other pieces are much more demanding, not just the two bigger pieces, the Variations sérieuses and the Rondo capriccioso, but such pieces as the Three Studies. It says much for Chamayou’s virtuosity and artistry that he makes the results so magnetic. He opens with a brief and powerful Prelude in B minor, leading to a sparkling account of the Rondo capriccioso bringing out echoes of the Midsummer Night’s Dream Scherzo, which right at the end of the recital comes as a tailpiece in Rachmaninov’s arrangement.
The articulation in the Three Etudes is phenomenally clear and light, as it is too in Chamayou’s dazzling account of the Caprices. There are similar qualities in the longest and most ambitious of the pieces, the Variations sérieuses. Along with the Songs Without Words it is good too to have Liszt’s surprisingly unshowy arrangements of Mendelssohn’s most famous Lied, “On Wings of Song”. Clean, clear sound to match the playing.