Sunday, March 12, 2017

Felix Mendelssohn - Cello Sonatas (Richard Lester; Susan Tomes)


Composer: Felix Mendelssohn
  1. Cello Sonata No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 45: I. Allegro vivace
  2. Cello Sonata No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 45: II. Andante
  3. Cello Sonata No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 45: III. Allegro assai
  4. Variations concertantes, Op. 17
  5. Cello Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 58: I. Allegro assai vivace
  6. Cello Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 58: II. Allegretto scherzando
  7. Cello Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 58: III. Adagio
  8. Cello Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 58: IV. Molto allegro e vivace
  9. Assai tranquillo
  10. Lied ohne Worte, Op. 109

Richard Lester, cello
Susan Tomes, piano
Date: 1988
Label: Hyperion



Since none of Mendelssohn's cello and piano works were currently available on CD, this disc would have been welcome enough even without the tenderly nostalgic little unpublished Assai tranquillo (written by the 26-year-old Mendelssohn for his good young friend, Julius Rietz) recorded here for the very first time. Lasting only just over two minutes it ends inconclusively on the dominant, as if intended to preface something bigger. But brief as it is, I thought it no less of a gem than the Lied ohne Worte of 1845 described by Susan Tomes in her refreshing introductory note as ''one of the most perfect and memorable'' of its kind.

I'm sure many collectors will also be as delighted as I was to renew acquaintance (after far too long) with the unjustly neglected Variations concertantes, specially composed in 1838 for the composer's younger brother, Paul, a keen amateur cellist although a banker-to-be. Both the ''homely'' (to quote Tomes again) D major theme and increasingly demonstrative figuration of the variations (not forgetting the penultimate presto ed agitato in the minor) are so cunningly crafted as well as so quintessentially Mendelssohnian in spirit as to make it hard to believe he was still only 20 at the time.
It is certainly these three works that allow the cellist and pianist to show their acutest telepathy as a duo. The two sonatas in their turn find them again very much on the composer's own imaginative wavelength. But hailing the Second as the more passionate of the two, Tomes draws attention to the torrents of keyboard arpeggios in the exultant outer movements that ''almost overwhelm the singing lines of the cello''. And except in the more lightly scored central movements in both, I did feel that balance did not favour the shyer Richard Lester. While sensitively mellow-toned and lyrical, his line at times seems to need stronger projection to match this very positive pianist's own musical conviction. Or could this be just a matter of their positioning in St Mary's Church, Hatfield Broad Oak?

-- Joan Chissell, Gramophone


Felix Mendelssohn (3 February 1809 – 4 November 1847) was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. He was among the most popular composers of the Romantic era. Like Mozart, he was recognized early as a musical prodigy. Mendelssohn enjoyed early success in Germany, where he also revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and in his travels throughout Europe. He was particularly well received in Britain as a composer, conductor and soloist, visited there ten times. His essentially conservative musical tastes, however, set him apart from many of his more adventurous musical contemporaries.


Richard Lester is one of leading British cellists and chamber musicians. He studied in London at the RCM with Amaryllis Fleming and in Germany with Johannes Goritzki. He was a member of the award-winning Florestan Trio, a founder-member of the ensemble Domus, a member of Hausmusik and the London Haydn Quartet. He was for many years principal with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and has been principal cello with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe since 1989. He has made over 40 highly acclaimed recordings, twice winning the Gramophone award for best chamber-music.


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