Mendelssohn Works for Cello & Piano
In her review of Lester's and Tomes's issue of Mendelssohn's complete works for cello and piano, JOC praised this duo for both their ''acute telepathy'' and for the ability to sound ''very much on the composer's own imaginative wavelength''. With the present period-instrument alternative, Isserlis and Tan offer comparably idiomatic, well-turned performances; but closer parity between cello and fortepiano helps to generate even greater expressive concentration. Moreover, Isserlis and Tan's predilection for fast tempos gives their performances an added freshness and vigour. Try, for example, the First Sonata in B flat major (which Mendelssohn wrote for his brother, Paul, in 1838), where the second movement's dual function as scherzo and slow movement is convincingly characterized, and the music's passionate outbursts sound arrestingly potent. The Variations concertantes, Op. 17, were also written for Paul Mendelssohn and here, too, Isserlis's and Tan's fine blend of subtlety and panache (enhanced by the fortepiano's relatively delicate timbre) affectingly conveys the music's nostalgic mood, and culminates powerfully in the work's conclusion. In the D major Second Sonata, Isserlis's and Tan's spontaneity and energy in the outer movements, skilfully controlled variety of timbre and touch in the scherzo, and dramatic opposition of chorale (piano) and recitative (cello) in the third movement—with its striking resolution in the piano's own recitative statement—sound immensely compelling.
The Assai tranquillo, written during a journey from Dusseldorf to Leipzig in 1835, bears a touching dedication from the composer to his friend, Julius Rietz. Here, as in the charming Song without words, Op. 109, sympathetic tonal balance between cello and fortepiano in the softly lit recording poignantly brings out the music's sentiment. Lester's and Tomes's version is warm and poetic but Isserlis and Tan effectively draw out the work's inconclusive ending to create a more telling analogy of the eternal nature of friendship.
Lester and Tomes offer excellent, sensitive performances of this repertoire, although the comparatively lush, reverberant recording, together with the tendency for the piano to dominate, occasionally sounds too robust. With Isserlis and Tan, better balance and crisper, more restrained recording helps vividly to evoke this music's romantic atmosphere.'