Notes and Editorial Reviews
The piano was his main instrument, and he is widely regarded as one of music’s most brilliant creators, so why is the solo piano music of Mendelssohn so little heard? Part of the explanation may lie in historical happenstance. One of Mendelssohn’s greatest claims to fame, musicologically speaking, is his central role in the rediscovery of the music of the Baroque, especially Bach, with his famous 1829 staging of the St. Matthew Passion. There is a sense, more so in his most mature music, of a comfortably retrograde sensibility. And yet, Mendelssohn so admired Beethoven that he cast his last sonata in the same key (the publisher posthumously used the same opus number), as the “Hammerklavier” Sonata. Further, the opening motif of this work
directly mimics the robust rhythmic pattern of the Beethoven work. The homage, however, is not mirrored in the spirit of the music; Beethoven writes with nearly unfathomable imagination and courage, while Mendelssohn is merely ingratiating and technically dazzling. When, in the Variations sérieuses, he employs a more sober motif, he is still flirting at the edge of the emotional cauldron that is Beethoven. The other two works on this disc, three Fantasies or Caprices, op. 16 and Fantasia in F? Minor, “Sonate écossaise,” come from that youthful period of the short-lived composer’s career when his virtuosity was most fresh and unvarnished by the cares of the world.
In the grand scheme, it is only useful to compare Mendelssohn to Beethoven because of their historical relationship and because Mendelssohn himself referred to the influence of the great man on his work. Outside of that context, it is easy to enjoy what is largely delightful, incredibly well-crafted music. This budget CD, with excellent, sprightly performances by the fine young German pianist Matthias Kirschnereit, gives us a wonderful opportunity to do just that.
FANFARE: Peter Burwasser
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