MENDELSSOHN: 7 Characteristic Pieces, Op. 7 / Fantasia, Op. 28 (Benjamin Frith) (Naxos: 8.553541)
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Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847):Piano Music Vol.5
Fantasia (Sonate ecossaise) in F sharpminor, Op. 28
Seven Characteristic Pieces, Op. 7
Prelude and Fugue in E minor
Sonata Movement in B flat minor
Capriccio in F sharp minor, Op. 5
Born in Hamburg in 1809, eldest son of thebanker Abraham Mendelssohn and grandson of the great Jewish thinker MosesMendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn took the additional name Bartholdy on hisbaptism as a Christian. He was brought up in Berlin, where his family settledin 1812, and here he enjoyed the wide cultural opportunities that his familyoffered, through their own interests and connections. Mendelssohn's earlygifts, manifested in a number of directions, included marked musical precocity,both as a player and as a performer, at a remarkably early age.
Mendelssohn's early manhood brought theopportunity to travel, as far south as Naples and as far north as the Hebrides,with Italy and Scotland both providing the inspiration for later symphonies.
His career involved him in the Lower Rhine Festival in D??sseldorf and a periodas city director of music, followed, in 1835, by appointment as conductor ofthe Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. Here he was able to continue the work hehad started in Berlin six years earlier, when he had conducted in Berlin arevival of Bach's St Matthew Passion. Leipzig was to provide adegree of satisfaction that he could not find in Berlin, where he returned atthe invitation of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1841. In Leipzig once more, in1843, he established a new Conservatory, spending his final years there, untilhis death at the age of thirty-eight on 4th November 1847, six months after thedeath of his gifted and beloved sister Fanny.
Mendelssohn seems to have written a firstversion of his Fantasia in F sharp minor, Opus 28, the so-called Sonateecossaise, in 1828, before his first visit to Scotland the following year.
In 1830, after his return, he played the Fantasia to Goethe in Weimar,but revised the piece in 1833 when it was published with a dedication to thepianist and composer Ignaz Moscheles, who had given him and his sister somelessons in Berlin in 1824 and proved a useful friend during Mendelssohn's visitto London in 1829. In a key that the composer found stimulating, the Fantasiaopens with a series of arpeggios, followed by the Andante principaltheme. A more extended passage of cascading arpeggios is followed by the returnof the Andante theme, leading to a shorter concluding passage ofdecorative intensity, fading to a wistful close. The second movement, marked Allegrocon moto, is in the style of a gentle A major Scherzo, with a Dmajor Trio at its heart. The extended final Presto is inestablished sonata form. The repeated exposition, the first section, repletewith dramatic excitement, offers the expected two thematic elements and theseare duly developed, to return in varied form in the final recapitulation.
Mendelssohn's Seven Characteristic Pieces, Opus 7, seem to have beenwritten as early as 1825. They are dedicated to his piano teacher, LudwigBerger, and reflect the study of counterpoint he had undertaken under theguidance of Zelter and his own absorption of the keyboard idiom of JohannSebastian Bach. The first piece is a tender prelude, followed by a shift fromthe key of E minor to B minor and a change of mood from the contemplative tothe excited. The third piece is a D major Fugue, the voices entering inimitation in descending order and proceeding to all the contrapuntal devicesthe heart could desire. The shadow of Bach is joined by that of DomenicoScarlatti in the extended fourth piece of the set, in A major, followed by asecond Fugue in the same key, with the four voices entering in ascendingorder and going on to a masterly display of counterpoint. The sixth piece, in Eminor and marked Sehns??chtig (Yearning), is tenderly evocative and iscapped by a final light-hearted piece in E major, breathing the fairyatmosphere of a true Mendelssohn Scherzo.
The Prelude and Fugue in E minor waspublished in the album Notre Temps in Mainz in 1841. The Prelude, writtenin that year, makes much of its opening motif and its continuation. The Fugue,written in 1827, has all the impetus inherent in a form to whichMendelssohn had devoted some study and of which he again demonstrates completecontrol, evidence of the way in which he had, even as a boy, absorbed thelessons of earlier musical traditions.
The Sonata Movement in B flat minor startswith a slow introduction, leading to a theme redolent of the world of Schubertand offering more rapid display. The central development section of themovement finds a place for brief contrapuntal activity, before the finalsection of recapitulation in music of no great distinction.
The Capriccio in F sharp minor, Opus 5,written in 1825, is marked Prestissimo and is a work of greatcontrapuntal excitement. Rossini, when he met Mendelssohn again in Frankfurt in1836, suggested the influence of Scarlatti, a judgement that the composer foundunjustified but that others have echoed, although there is rather something ofthe strength of Beethoven in the writing. Mendelssohn himself, as well hemight, thought highly enough of his achievement. There is again a demonstrablemastery of counterpoint, as the work unfolds, with music of irrepressibleenergy and vigour, remarkable testimony to the composer's precocity both as acomposer and as a pianist.
The British pianist Benjamin Frith has hada distinguished career. A pupil of Fanny Waterman, he won the British NationalConcerto Competition at the age of fourteen, followed by the award of theMozart Memorial Prize and joint top prize in 1986 in the Italian BusoniInternational Piano Competition and in 1989 a Gold Medal and First Prize in theArthur Rubinstein Piano Master Competition. Benjamin Frith enjoys a busyinternational career, with engagements in the United States and throughoutEurope as a soloist and recitalist, and festival appearances at Sheffield,Aldeburgh, Harrogate, Kuhmo, Bolzano, Savannah, Pasadena and Hong Kong and anEdinburgh Festival debut in 1992. His recordings for Naxos include piano musicby Schumann and Weber, the two Mendelssohn Piano Concertos, the Third PianoConcerto of Rachmaninov and Piano Concertos by John Field.