MENDELSSOHN: Variations Concertantes. Cello Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2. Lied ohne Wort, Op. 109. Assai tranquillo / Marcy Rosen, cel; Lydia Artymiw, pn / Bridge 9501
I reviewed this CD immediately after doing the Schubert Trios by Trio Vitruvi. The musical approach here is similar: fairly brisk tempi, taut phrasing and very little rubato, but in this case it works better because Mendelssohn was the 19th-century Mozart and, well, this approach just feels more right in the Classical style.
Moreover, Lydia Artymiw is a more varied and interesting player that Trio Vitruvi’s pianist. She has a richer, more deep-in-the-keys style, and gives out more emotionally. This is key in these sonatas, which are true dialogues between cellist and pianist, and it doesn’t hurt that Marcy Rosen has a luscious tone with a quick vibrato that falls gratefully on the ear. Between the two of them, they dig into the music with aplomb, giving their all emotionally as well as musically.
As I’ve said many times in the course of my reviewing career, I not only consider Mendelssohn the true successor to Mozart but, in many ways, a superior composer. He possessed the same sense of classical balance as his predecessor, but was much more varied not only from work to work but also within each movement of each work. Whereas Mozart generally rode on the surface of everything he composed, albeit with little harmonic twists that added interest, he generally stayed outside his own music (a few works, like the Requiem and the 40th Symphony, being exceptions), whereas Mendelssohn gave you everything he had. And he did this as a part-time composer, spending most of his relatively brief career as a pianist and conductor, often of others’ music (his two favorites being Bach and Beethoven). Nothing Mendelssohn wrote was really perfunctory, or just brilliant, pretty music without substance. And the same can also be said for his talented sister, Fanny, who was his musical alter ego. As for his younger brother Paul, an accomplished amateur cellist for whom these works were written, we can only guess from the high quality of this music, particularly the superb Variations concertantes which opens this CD (which are also superbly played, I must add, on records by Zuill Bailey and Steven Isserlis).
This is especially evident in the slow movements, which Rosen and Artymiw play with care and feeling without overstepping the line into bathos. There is so much attention to detail here, in fact, that it would take a full page just to describe all the little things they do to enhance the music, and never overstep the line. These are superb performances by any measure.
Their performance of the second sonata is as good as the first, superbly detailed and emotionally moving. If Paul Mendelssohn was as good as his reputation suggests, I think he must have played them in a similar manner. The small encore pieces, Lied ohne wort and the Assai tranquillo, are played in a similar fashion. This CD is clearly competitive with most of the big-name versions of these pieces.
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
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