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Dip Your Ears: No. 270 (Shadowy Cello Sonatas)

available at Amazon
C.Schumann, Mendelessohn Frère et Sœur, G.Jenner
Lorenzo Meseguer (c), Mario Mora (pf)
(Eudora SACD 2204)

Clara, Fanny, and Gustav in the Shadows

“SHADOWS” is an album combining two single-movement works for cello and piano by Fanny Mendelssohn (Fantasia in G minor) and Clara Schumann (Three Romances op.22) with two cello sonatas, Felix Mendelssohn’s Second Sonata and that of the Brahmsian Gustav Jenner (also in D major). The title of the CD, goes the argument in the booklet, comes from the fact that each composer lived in the shadow of another. The gals in that of their brother and husband, respectively, and Jenner in that of Brahms, whose only student Jenner had been. Fair enough: While it might be argued that Clara Schumann was not much less – if at all – famous than her husband at the height of her concertizing career, at least as a composer she certainly wasn’t a known quantity. With Felix Mendelssohn, the claim is stretched too far. Only because he was “denigrated by some European musicologists in the early 20th century, in part because of his Jewish origins”, doesn’t mean that Mendelssohn, the man who invented classical music as we know it (from the conservatory system to the figure of the conductor to the idea of repertoire; salvaging Bach as a bonus) and who wrote a slew of masterpieces that were never not loved and acclaimed, has, for all the accusations of an excess of facileness or not pushing musical boundaries, ever been in anyone’s shadow.

But no matter, the music matters, not the title of the CD. And the performances are splendid, indeed. Cellist Lorenzo Meseguer has a surefooted, none-too-sweet tone and gorgeous round low notes that come out very nicely on the Eudora recording, which is proximate to the instruments (more so than, say, the fine Naxos recording with Maria Kliegel and Kristin Merscher) but leaves enough air. The second-movement pizzicatos are nearly as coy as those of Pieter Wispelwey’s (with Paolo Giacometti on Onyx) while Mario Mora’s piano part – naturally, given he is playing a modern Steinway – is more supple than Giacometti’s 1837 Érard. The tempi are not extreme in either direction, although the Adagio is certainly milked for its wistful beauty… if not as wickedly as Christophe Coin and Patrick do, who make it sound as though Tzimon Barto broke into a fortepiano shop. (In a good way, I suppose, although that’s bound to be rather subjective.) The finale is a nicely contrasting firecracker and the contrast. Comparison to a golden-oldie favorite of mine, János Starker and György Sebők on Mercury, make Meseguer’s cello appear comparatively prominent – perhaps more a question of engineering than playing.

The Mendelssohn may be the main ingredient of this CD, but the USP is probably the shadowy composers in front and after him, where there’s little competition. Only two other recordings exist of the fine Jenner sonata; only four of the beautiful Fanny Mendelssohn Fantasia which is here given all its considerable worth. Both, Jenner’s work, which is very obviously (but also very deftly) post-Brahmsian, and Fanny’s piece, are reasons to tune in. The key is not to be turned off by the Three Romances which, after a few minutes of vapid beauty, become so obviously trite that they’re hard to bear: ambling melodies in the cello connected by clichéd phrases and clumsy chords. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.


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