Felix Mendelssohn – The Complete Solo Piano Music, Vol. 2 – Howard Shelley (2014)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96kHz | Time – 01:13:40 minutes | 1,18 GB | Genre: Classical
Official Digital Download – Source: hyperion-records | @ Hyperion Records
Recorded: June 2013 at St Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London, United Kingdom
Howard Shelley is acclaimed as the living master of early Romantic piano music. So much of this music was ignored throughout the twentieth century that there is still a sense of discovery at each new recording. Shelley here presents the second instalment of a six-volume set of Mendelssohn’s complete solo piano music—perhaps the least well-known part of the composer’s repertoire. The first volume was praised for Shelley’s ‘immaculate, lightly-pedalled brilliance, unfailing stylistic assurance, warmth and flexibility’
This second volume includes the Rondo capriccioso, a favourite virtuoso concert piece of the nineteenth century; the three-movement Fantasia in F sharp minor, which was originally described as a ‘Sonate écossaise’, with its characteristic Scottish folk-song elements in the first movement, and two books of the Songs without Words.
After listening to a firebrand virtuoso, though one inclined towards hysteria (Khatia Buniatishvili), Howard Shelley’s mix of ardour and urbanity come as a sane and stable relief. And in the second volume of his six-CD cycle of Mendelssohn’s piano music, he shows himself ideally cast. His poise and vehemence give substance to even the composer’s more facile utterances.
Time and again Shelley makes it clear that Mendelssohn has a special place in his affections, and although it is invidious to locate the finer moments in his unfailing expertise, certain performances stand out for their exceptional grace and commitment. What suppleness and expressive beauty in the Andante prefacing the evergreen Rondo capriccioso, what virtuosity in the wildly skittering finale of the F sharp minor Fantasia. What quiet eloquence Shelley achieves in the sixth of the Songs without Words (Book 2), where the gondolier sings his plaintive song above a gently rocking accompaniment.
Larry Todd’s notes chart the rises and falls of Mendelssohn’s reputation, from ‘Mendelssohn does not go deep’ to Shelley’s vital and refind re-evaluation. Hyperion’s sound is immaculate. –Bryce Morrison, Gramophone
From the opening bars of the Rondo capriccioso —solemn but inviting—there can be no doubt that we are in the presence of a classy composer, although one who is short-sightedly underrated in some quarters. Mendelssohn brought genius to the art of writing music, as man and boy, someone not just with a flair for creating and playing instruments, and doing so from his most tender years, but with real experience of other disciplines, having been born into an artistically stimulating household. After the measured introduction, the Rondo itself sparkles with delight thanks to Howard Shelley’s poised and elfin fingers, the music light and fluffy. Just a couple of small reservations though, one being the timbre of the piano, which is a little lacking in bass body at times, if admirably clear, and the suspsicion (no more than that) that some dynamic changes are not all of Shelley’s doing—they can be a little abrupt—although I am sure that this paragon pianist would not be looking to the control room for any artificial aid.
Moving swiftly on, and before the writ is served, there is much to enjoy on this second volume of Shelley’s survey of Mendelssohn’s complete solo piano music (and with no further doutbting distractions), enough to want to explore the first release of this series (reviewed in March 2013). Each work here has character: the mysterious opening of the Fantasia on ‘The last rose of summer’ is reminiscent of Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ Sonata before a simple statement of the named ditty. What follows are ingenious departures from it, and no pushover for the pianist. Fantasias, caprices and songs are the order of the day in this compliation—short-form pieces, 22 in total (including the three movements that make up the F sharp minor Fantasia, ‘Sonate ecossaise’)—that bear testament to Mendelssohn’s imagination and sure-footedness. They are all eminently attractive, a mix of the agreeably tuneful, romantically pictorial, invigoratingly dashing and elegantly crafted. Shelley is the stylish master of it all, not least the roulade of notes that are often found of the printed page and which need to find their way to the pianist’s fingers.
Books 2 and 3 of the Songs without words include some gems, and also some spirited numbers (for example, No 4 of Book 2 is marked ‘Agitato e con fuoco’). Full of narrative whatever the tempo, this set concludes with the well-known and enigmatic ‘Venetianisches Gondollied’ with Mendelssohn exploring similar waters to those found in Chopin’s Barcarolle. Similar delights follow in Book 3, the concluding ‘Duetto’ melting the heart in a manner that is rather Schumannesque, and so lovingly shaped by Shelley. Yes, all good stuff, and thoroughly recommended. –Colin Anderson, International Record Review
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
1 Rondo capriccioso in E major Op 14[6’36]
2 Fantasia on ‘The last rose of summer’ in E major Op 15[7’41]
Trois fantaisies ou caprices Op 16
3 No 1 in A minor: Andante con moto – Allegro vivace[4’28]
4 No 2 in E minor: Scherzo: Presto[2’31]
5 No 3 in E major: Andante[3’56]
Fantasia in F sharp minor ‘Sonate écossaise’ Op 28
6 Con moto agitato – Andante[5’12]
7 Allegro con moto[2’07]
9 Lied in E flat major[1’54]
10 Lied in A major 1830[1’21]
Lieder ohne Worte II Op 30
11 No 1 in E flat major: Andante espressivo[4’21]
12 No 2 in B flat minor: Allegro di molto[2’10]
13 No 3 in E major: Adagio non troppo[2’23]
14 No 4 in B minor: Agitato e con fuoco[2’44]
15 No 5 in D major: Andante grazioso[2’21]
16 No 6 in F sharp minor, ‘Venetianisches Gondellied’: Allegretto tranquillo[2’59]
Lieder ohne Worte III Op 38
17 No 1 in E flat major: Con moto[2’28]
18 No 2 in C minor: Allegro non troppo[2’38]
19 No 3 in E major: Presto e molto vivace[1’56]
20 No 4 in A major: Andante[2’25]
21 No 5 in A minor: Agitato[2’14]
22 No 6 in A flat major, ‘Duetto’: Andante[3’08]