Notes and Editorial Reviews
There is a great deal of Mendelssohn still to be explored, and this record charmingly mixes familiar and unfamiliar, in expert performances on period instruments. The most important of the well-known works is the Variations serieuses, which Richard Burnett plays with great style on a Broadwood of 1823 from his Finchcocks collection. He also uses it for the two Venetian gondola songs, the former being one of the Songs without words (and a curiously dark, brooding piece for the genre), the latter an independent piece delightfully suited to the instrument's lyrical qualities. The other Songs without words are played on a Graf of 1826, a lighter, more sparkling instrument. It is beautifully effective in Op. 62 No. 6, giving this so-called
''Spring Song'' a deliciously fresh iridescence the piece has so often lacked in countless performances. It is also ideal for Op. 67 No. 4, the piece known to the Germans as ''Spinnrade'' and to us sometimes as ''The Bee's Wedding'' (none of these titles is authentic, but it is hard to deny ''Spring Song'' its validity). Op. 67 No. 2 is also charmingly played, its caressing song over a toccata accompaniment diminishing the incipient sentimentality that can threaten these Songs without words. The Rondo capriccioso comes off less well, though a tendency to heaviness in the bass seems to be at least in part attributable to the otherwise very sensitive recording.
The clarinet works include the little-known sonata which Mendelssohn wrote at the age of 15 (in his prime, some would say). In the first movement Mendelssohn does rather, as Alan Hacker writes in his useful notes, rely ''often on his own instrument for the motive power'': the clarinet comes more fully into its own with the slow movement, a near folk-song with a strong note of the ''Schafers Klagelied'' movement of Weber's Trio. Hacker plays it eloquently, though his tone is rather hard in places. The two Concert Pieces are good fun. The First opens with an odd movement studded with recitatives, and has a lilting Andante in the same key before taking to the major for a hurtling finale, apparently written in a manner ''purposely kept cold'' because the two Baermanns who played it were off to Russia: I should have thought it would have warmed their fingers up nicely. The Second has a Presto opening that occasionally tests ensemble between the clarinettists, and again has a lilting movement in the same key (D minor) before going into a cheerful Allegretto finale in the relative major. The record is, incidentally, excellently produced, with full details of the instruments and even the recording equipment used.
John Warrack, Gramophone [4/1990]
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