MENDELSSOHN COMPLETE PIANO QUARTETS: No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 1. No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 2. No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 3. Piano Quartet in D Major MWV Q 10. · Quartetto Klimt · BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95532 (2 CDs: 98:28) (8/28/20) [Distr. by Naxos]****
By the time Felix Mendelssohn (1809- 1847) was twelve years old, his precocious compositions had already earned him recognition as “a second Mozart” from the poet Goethe, a verdict Heinrich Heine echoed enthusiastically. Mendelssohn’s musical mentor and teacher, Carl Friedrich Zelter, insisted that young Felix imbibe the works of Mozart, and the piano sonatas and piano quartets of the great Austrian genius became common parlance. Cherubini would invite the lad in 1825 to a Paris performance of the Mozart Requiem, which was to prove highly influential to his development. Although father Abraham Mendelssohn declined Cherubini’s wish that the boy remain in Paris for further tutelage, the return to their native Berlin soon bore fruit in the form of a defining score by a young master, the String Octet, Op. 20.
The Piano Quartet No. 1 (1822) opens with a healthy impulse, Allegro vivace, from the cello (Alice Gabbiani), and the violin (Duccio Ceccanti) and viola (Edoardo Rosadini) join what becomes, with the active addition of the keyboard (Matteo Fossi), a full sonata-form. We hear allusions to Mozart’s K. 478 Piano Quartet in the minor key moments of drama, but the tenor of the movement remains sunny, a product of a sojourn to Switzerland and a few weeks in Frankfurt to complete the score. The A-flat Major Adagio enjoys a gentle cast, the piano part’s indulging in right-hand filigree somewhat in cadenza style. A bit later, the piano proceeds in stepwise, parlando style. The cello introduces a secondary theme and suspensions hold us in thrall as the strings build the tension. The Scherzo (Presto) – Maggiore movement basks in the fluent style that literally define Mendelssohn’s bravura works, from the concertos to the piano trios. The tempo and hustle anticipate the last movement of the Octet. The central section Trio reveals some original harmonic, conversational motion that cannot be taught. The last movement, Allegro moderato, similar to the first movement, pays debts to Mozart’s C Minor Sonata, K. 457. Quartetto Klimt (rec. 2018) realizes this charming but muscular music with a warm congeniality.
Beethoven, rather than Mozart, informs the stylistic evolution of Mendelssohn’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in F Minor (1823), dedicated to teacher Zelter. The dark hued Allegro molto has clear reference to Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata, rather delicately intoned on pianist Fossi’s Yamaha. The working out in sonata-form proves rather conventional, although the fff of the climax comes as a dramatic surprise. The piano has assumed a more dominant role in this effort, and in the D-flat Adagio the tremolos reveal a true Romantic strain in the youthful composer whose capacity for a winning melody and warm harmony asserts itself. Mendelssohn marks his F Minor third movement Intermezzo: Allegro moderato, and we experience some unique turns of phrase, not so far from the “inward” ethos in Schumann. We recall that F Minor sets the key for the Beethoven Appassionata Sonata, and so does Mendelssohn. The violin and cello set a pace that the keyboard picks up, soon modulating, like Beethoven, to G-flat Major. The piano part assumes a virtuoso character, easily comparable to the dervish motions of his later Op. 14 Rondo capriccioso. This movement’s rich patina has the benefit of close miking of gifted Maestro Fossi from Sound Engineer and Producer, Luca Ricci.
Thee 1824 B Minor Quartet, Op. 3 is dedicated to Goethe, who responded to the completed work as the “graceful embodiment of that beautiful, rich, energetic soul which so astonished me when you first let me become acquainted with it.” Besides having eliminated the first movement Allegro molto – Più allegro exposition repeat, Mendelssohn’s assigns his violin part a decided concertante role, so the violin and piano, often in Neapolitan harmony, virtually compete for dominance. The sensibility of this dark movement, tightly wrought, prefigures much of the later Mendelssohn’s dramatic style. The E Major Andante enjoys a leisurely progression, serenely confident, particularly in the cello part. The sheer size of the last two movements, Allegro molto and Finale: Allegro vivace rather dwarf the efforts of the C Minor and F Minor opera. It becomes obvious that by 1824 Mendelssohn has discarded the academic pedagogy of his youthful studies and has ventured into a precocious maturity.
The Quartetto Klimt (estab. 1995) include a truly early Mendelssohn opus, his 1821 Piano Quartet in D Minor. In three movements, the work proves astonishing in its easy facility of means, given it represents a talent just a few months shy of his thirteenth birthday! Its combination of dramatic elements from Beethoven and lyrical impulses from Mozart would make the work a clever moment of an epigone, but its fluent combination of melodic ardor and Classical construction force us to concur with Goethe that this music heralds a young musician who transcends any “prodigy” designation.
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