You hear the name “Mendelssohn” and your first thought might be the Midsummer Night’s Dream Music, the Italian symphony or the two piano trios; all of which are among his most enduring works. His piano music, on the other hand (and there is a lot of it), is remembered selectively at best, despite the advocacy, in recent decades, of Murray Perahia, Daniel Barenboim and Bertrand Chamayou. Is it because his many Songs Without Words (48 in total) often evoke the spirit of domestic music-making rather than the concert hall?
There are certainly many quiet pleasures to be had on this album, largely because of Shelley’s sympathetic advocacy. Perahia (Sony) gives you a more epic view of the Variations Sérieuses and Banenboim’s enduring set of the complete Songs Without Words (DGG) is warmly symphonic, but the opportunity Shelley provides in his survey is to hear a curated collection of Mendelssohn’s keyboard works – in this case, from his final years – adding up, in sum, to a complete picture of his solo piano work.
It’s true that, in writing for piano, Mendelssohn excelled at “miniature lyrical inspirations” (to quote the album’s annotator R. Larry Todd), yet the tenderness of the two children’s pieces of 1842, for example, offers a marked contrast to the sets of variations on this disc, which have an air of Schubert’s long-breathed lyricism about them (or, in the case of the Variations Sérieuses, a kinship with Beethoven); and while the Op. 67 set of Songs Without Words includes the familiar Spinning Song, the trip to Venice in the Gondellied is a real surprise.
Works: The Complete Solo Piano Music Volume 5
Performer: Howard Shelley p
Label: Hyperion CDA68344