MENDELSSOHN: Piano Trios Nos. 1 and 2 (Gould Piano Trio/ John Taylor) (Naxos: 8.555063)
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FELIX MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, Op.49
 Molto allegro agitato
 Andante con moto tranquillo
 Scherzo: Leggiero e vivace
 Finale: Allegro assai appassionato
Piano Trio No.2 in C minor, Op.66
 Allegro energico e fuoco
 Andante espressivo
 Scherzo: Molto allegro quasi presto
 Finale: Allegro appassionato
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 1847)
Born in Hamburg in 1809, eldest son of the banker Abraham Mendelssohn and grandson of the great Jewish thinker Moses Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn, who took the additional name Bartholdy on his baptism as a Christian, Heines ticket of admission to European culture, was brought up in Berlin, where his family settled in 1812. Here he enjoyed the wide cultural opportunities that his family offered, through their own interests and connections.
Mendelssohns early gifts, manifested in a number of directions, included marked musical precocity, both as a player and as a performer, at a remarkably early age. These exceptional abilities received every encouragement from his family and their friends, although Abraham Mendelssohn entertained early doubts about the desirability of his son taking the profession of musician. These reservations were in part put to rest by the advice of Cherubini in Paris and by the increasing signs of the boys musical abilities and interests.
Mendelssohns early manhood brought the opportunity 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 Düsseldorf and a period as city director of music, followed, in 1835, by appointment as conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. Here he was able to continue the work he had started in Berlin six years earlier, when he had conducted in Berlin a revival of Bachs St Matthew Passion. Leipzig was to provide a degree of satisfaction that he could not find in Berlin, where he returned at the invitation of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1841. In Leipzig once more, in 1843, he established a new Conservatory, spending his final years there, until his death at the age of 38 on 4th November 1847, six months after the death of his gifted and beloved sister Fanny.
The year 1839 was mainly spent in Leipzig. Here Mendelssohn, with initial reluctance, wrote an overture and a song for Victor Hugos play Ruy Blas, a work he described as quite horrible and incredibly beneath the dignity of any writer, presumably finding its lurid intrigue and subversion of the normal social order distasteful. The same year brought a setting of Psalm CXIV, When Israel came out of Egypt, for eight-part chorus and orchestra, and conducting engagements in Düsseldorf and Brunswick. The Psalm found a place in the concert repertoire of the autumn Leipzig season, when Schuberts Symphony in C major, retrieved from oblivion by Schumann and first heard in Leipzig earlier in the year, was repeated, and the four overtures that Beethoven had written for his only opera, Fidelio, were played. The season found a place too for the newly written Piano Trio in D minor, Opus 49. This last, a particularly pleasing work, allows the cello to propose the first subject of the opening movement, a theme then extended by the violin. A stormy transition leads to an expressive second theme, again introduced by the cello and echoed by the piano and violin. The rapid figuration of the piano part gives the central development a new tension and excitement and the cello, now accompanied by the violin, offers the first theme in recapitulation, followed by the second, before the agitation of the closing section of the movement. The piano is first entrusted with the principal theme of the B flat major slow movement, followed by the violin, closely shadowed by the cello. A second part is added to the theme by the piano, again echoed by the violin, before a B flat minor variant of the material is introduced. The theme is heard again from the violin, with a more elaborate accompaniment, leading to a tranquil conclusion. The D major Scherzo bears the unmistakable traits of Mendelssohn, suggesting, as it does in outline, music to be associated with A Midsummer Nights Dream. There is no contrasting trio section and the key of D minor is initially restored in the final Allegro assai appassionato, a rondo, with a first episode in an at first relatively tranquil F major that mounts in excitement. The next episode, after the return of the main theme, is in B flat major, introduced by the cello. This theme brings a momentary shaft of sunlight into the final section in D major.
Mendelssohn wrote his second trio, the Piano Trio in C minor, Opus 66, in 1845. He still had not rid himself of all his responsibilities in Berlin but would soon do so. Meanwhile he had conducted during the season of the London Philharmonic Society, before returning to his wife and family in Frankfurt and then settling once more in Leipzig for a further season with the Gewandhaus Orchestra and teaching obligations at the Conservatory that he had founded there. The opening material provides a strong backbone to the energetic first movement. This is extended into a more flowing melody and there is a secondary theme in E flat major. These elements are vigorously developed and return modified in recapitulation. The slow movement, in E flat major, is introduced by the piano, followed by the violin accompanied by the cello. There are darker hues in what follows, as minor keys are explored before the main theme returns in fuller form, moving forward to a gently lilting end. The very lively G minor Scherzo has a contrasting G major trio section which hardly pauses for breath before the scherzo resumes its headlong course. The final rondo has contrasting episodes in E flat and A flat major, and these return in final triumph, with the chorale-like theme of the second episode now in a grandiose C major, followed by reminiscences of the earlier themes, ending a work of restless energy.