MENDELSSOHN: Piano Sextet, Op. 110 / Piano Quartet No. 1 (Andra Darzins/ Bartholdy Piano Quartet/ Teije van Geest/ Wolfgang Wagner) (Naxos: 8.550966)
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Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)
Sextet in D Major for violin, two violas, cello, double bass and piano, Op.
Piano Quartet No.1 in C Minor, Op. 1
Felix Mendelssohn, grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, the great Jewish thinker ofthe Enlightenment, was born in Hamburg in 1809, the son of a prosperous banker.
His family was influential in cultural circles, and he and his sister wereeducated in an environment that encouraged both musical and general culturalinterests. At the same time the extensive acquaintance of the Mendelssohns amongartists and men of letters brought an unusual breadth of mind, a stimulus tonatural curiosity.
Much of Mendelssohn's childhood was passed in Berlin, where his parents movedwhen he was three, to escape Napoleonic invasion. There he took lessons fromGoethe's much admired Zelter, who introduced him to the old poet in Weimar. Thechoice of a career in music was eventually decided on the advice of Cherubini,consulted by Abraham Mendelssohn in Paris, where he was director of theConservatoire. There followed a period of further education, a Grand Tour ofEurope that took him south to Italy and north to Scotland. His professionalcareer began in earnest with his appointment as general director of music inD??sseldorf in 1833.
Mendelssohn's subsequent career was intense and brief. He settled in Leipzigas conductor of the Gewandhaus concerts, and was instrumental in establishingthe Conservatory there. Briefly lured to Berlin by the King of Prussia and bythe importunity of his family, he spent an unsatisfactory year or so as directorof the music section of the Academy of Arts, providing music for a revival ofclassical drama under royal encouragement. This appointment he was glad torelinquish in 1844, later returning to his old position in Leipzig, where hedied in 1847.
As a composer Mendelssohn possessed a perfect technical command of theresources available to him and was always able to write music that isfelicitous, apt and often remarkably economical in the way it achieves itseffects. Mendelssohn had, like the rest of his family, accepted Christianbaptism, a ceremony Heine once described as a ticket of admission into Europeanculture. Nevertheless he encountered anti-Semitic prejudice, as others were to,and false ideas put about in his own life-time have left some trace in modernrepetitions of accusations of superficiality for which there is no realjustification.
Mendelssohn's D major Sextet, like the three piano quartets, is thework of the early 1820s. Written in 1824, it is scored, unusually, for a singleviolin, two violas, cello, double bass and piano, instrumentation that providesits own rich sonorities. The strings open the first movement, immediatelyfollowed by the piano, which develops this opening. The strings, against asustained pedal E from the double bass, lead to the second subject, entrusted tothe piano, followed by material that allows the piano an accompanying tripletfiguration that continues through the coda into the central development. Theslow movement, in F sharp major, is started by the strings, the violin melodythen taken up by the piano; proceeding thereafter to an exploration of remoterchromatic possibilities, The Minueti marked Agitato, is unusual. It is in thekey of D minor, with an F major Trio, and in 6/8 metre. The calm of its endingis broken by the vigorous opening to the final Allegro vivace, led by the piano.
The movement contains unusual excursions into remoter keys and at its heightreturns to the D minor Agitato of the so-called Minuet. The same minor key isretained for an Allegro con fuoco return of the principal theme that onlyreturns to the key of D major in the final bars of the movement.
The first of the three piano quartets, the Piano Quartet in C minor, Opus1, dedicated to Prince Radziwill, was written in 1822, when Mendelssohn wasthirteen. It would be natural to seek other influences in the work of a composerof this age and the Piano Quartet certainly suggests a familiarity with bothMozart and, nearer in date, Weber. The opening Allegro vivace unfolds with theexpected clarity of texture, with the cello introducing the E flat major secondsubject. The central development explores other keys, before a gradual return tothe tonic for the final recapitulation in which the second subject, now in Cmajor, is given to the lower register of the piano. The A flat major Adagiofinds room for counterplay between the piano and violin, the former allowed amore elaborate role as the movement proceeds. There is a busy C minor Scherzo,repeated to frame a curious Trio section, in which the violin is silent and thepianist uses only the left hand in a three-part texture. The quartet ends with amonothematic Allegro moderato in which the piano plays an elaborately decorativepart.
Bartholdy Piano Quartet
The Bartholdy Piano Quartet was founded by the violinist Jorg-Wolfgang Jahnin 1968. He himself was born in Saalfeld and studied the violin in Cologne andchamber music with the Quartetto Italiano in Venice. He is joined in the quartetby the Hamburg-born viola-player Matthias Buchholz, who studied both in hisnative city and in the United States of America, where he was a member of theRidge Quartet and a prize-winner in various international competitions. Thecellist Franco Rossi, born in Venice, studied there and in Florence and in 1945was a foundation member of the Quartetto Italiano, enjoying a distinguishedinternational career. The pianist of the Bartholdy Piano Quartet is Pier NarcisoMasi, a native of Siena, who trained as a musician in Florence and in Rome. Hewas for ten years the leader of the Quartetto Brahms and has performed duorepertoire with, among others, Pino Carmirelli, Salvatore Accardo, Uto Ughi andFrancq Rossi.