Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cello Sonatas: No. 1; No. 2.
Lied ohne Worte,
Emil Klein (vc); Cristian Beldi (pn)
ARTE NOVA 277880 (58:42)
Thanks to the good offices of the Allegro Corporation, the large and diverse back catalog of Arte Nova releases has, for some time now, been making its way into the U.S. market. “Back catalog,” however, is the catch phrase, for neither this, nor any of the other Arte Nova CDs that have come my way for review, is new. The current entry
was recorded in 1995 by the then 40-year-old Romanian cellist, Emil Klein, and Romanian pianist Cristian Beldi. Both are Romanian trained—Klein at the Bucharest Conservatory (though he later went on to study with cellist David Geringas in Hamburg) and Beldi at the George Enescu Music College.
Mendelssohn wrote two sonatas for cello and piano, the first in B? Major in 1838, the second in D Major in 1843. Both bear the recognizable stamp of the composer’s style: fluid melody, perfectly judged, if a bit predictable, harmonic progression, and perhaps most Mendelssohnian, a piano part that sweeps all before it in nonstop cascades of busy passagework. A pianist friend of mine once wondered if Mendelssohn crammed more notes onto the page than did any other composer, and referred to the appearance of the score as “fly poop on paper.” There’s certainly no question that Mendelssohn’s dexterous keyboard writing requires the nimblest of fingers and gives the poor pianist no respite. The technique was not uncommon in chamber works by other pianist-composers of the period, but Mendelssohn pursued it with special zeal, and it’s as evident in these two sonatas as it is in the composer’s two piano trios written around the same time.
One of the most side-splittingly funny anecdotes you will ever encounter disparages Mendelssohn with devastating wit. It was penned by Berlioz in his collection of essays titled
Evenings in the Orchestra
. Berlioz deplored music competitions as much as he detested Mendelssohn’s music, and in a fictional account, he weaves together the two themes in a tale of impish mischief. There is to be a piano competition in which some 31 contestants will participate, each playing the first movement of Mendelssohn’s G-Minor Piano Concerto. The famous French piano maker, Sébastian Érard, is prevailed upon to provide a new instrument, the finest ever to come from his shop, a masterpiece in which he takes great personal pride. The day of the competition arrives. Contestants, judges, Érard, and invited guests assemble for the event. The first contestant, a young man, strides confidently onto the stage, sits down at the piano, and begins to play. As he finishes and makes his exit, he is heard to mutter that the new piano needs breaking in, for the keys are too stiff. The same complaint is voiced by the next several entrants. By the seventh contestant’s turn, no more grumbling is heard, for now the keyboard feels just right. But 20 more repetitions of the concerto render the keyboard so loose that the keys now move if one merely breathes on them. Exhausted, one of the jurors faints and another has to be bled before the competition can continue. Finally, it’s the turn of the last contestant, number 31. But before his fingers can touch the keys, the piano, having learned the concerto on its own, begins to play by itself, relentlessly starting over again each time it reaches the end. Nothing is able to stop it, until at last Érard’s magnificent instrument is hacked to pieces with an axe and chucked in splinters out the window, continuing to clatter Mendelssohn’s concerto in the courtyard below. Luckily for those present, Berlioz does not prolong the spectacle,
, by having the chopped up piano reconstitute itself into an unstoppable army of pianos all continuing in their Mendelssohnian march. But Berlioz does manage a final swipe at the composer he’s ridiculed: “At least Mendelssohn won’t be able to complain that his music isn’t played. But look at the result!”
As with Saint-Saëns, there has always been some question as to whether Mendelssohn’s facility for composing was a surrogate for gravity and depth of content. Or, as some wag once put it, “Mendelssohn was born a genius and died a talent.” One cannot dismiss this observation out of hand, for in his last work for cello and piano, the 1845
Song without Words
, op. 109, Mendelssohn anticipates Saint-Saëns’s “The Swan” in a Victorian handkerchief that exudes the perfume of sentimental appeal.
Though there would have been ample room on the disc to include it, Klein and Beldi do not offer us Mendelssohn’s remaining original work for cello and piano, the
, op. 17, a piece from the composer’s youth that would have framed the two sonatas as the matching bookend to the late
Song without Words
. Most other recordings of Mendelssohn’s works for cello and piano, of which there are many, do include the
. Of them, my preferred version is with Mischa Maisky and Sergio Tiempo on Deutsche Grammophon. Klein, however, is an excellent cellist with a number of fine recordings to his credit, and he and Beldi turn in very satisfying performances of the two sonatas. Arte Nova’s 1995 sound is solid, if not state of the art; and for those who don’t already own other recordings of these works, the budget price makes this disc well worth considering.
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