Alice Neary and Benjamin Frith perform cello sonatas by Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn and Sterndale Bennett

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COMPOSERS: Fanny Mendelssohn,Sterndale Bennett
LABELS: Champs Hill Records
ALBUM TITLE: Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn, Sterndale Bennett
WORKS: Fanny Mendelssohn: Fantasia in G minor, Capriccio in A flat; Felix Mendelssohn: Cello Sonatas Nos 1 & 2; Sterndale Bennett: Sonata Duo in A major
PERFORMER: Alice Neary (cello), Benjamin Frith (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHRCD105

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This thoughtful programme brings together three contemporaries: Felix Mendelssohn, Fanny Hensel (née Mendelssohn) and William Sterndale Bennett, of whom Mendelssohn once wrote ‘I think him the most promising young musician I know’. It’s no surprise that the most vivid – and vividly realised – works here are Felix Mendelssohn’s sonatas: even the relatively neglected First is a masterpiece of contrapuntal ingenuity beside which Sterndale Bennett’s effective, but unambitious, duo pales. Alice Neary is crisply elegant in Mendelssohn’s opening Allegro vivace against Benjamin Frith’s mercurial fluency, drawing a wonderfully veiled sound from her throaty Gagliano cello. The falling exchanges of its wistful slow movement are limpid, though its flowing Allegro assai feels tame.

They fire up in the Second Sonata, which fairly bursts with vivacity, making this is a strong contender beside the sinewy, high-voltage reading of Steven Isserlis and Stephen Hough (on Hyperion). Neary and Frith achieve an ideal effervescence, at no tonal expense, which also lifts Bennett’s gracefully vocal Allegro. Frith’s crystalline touch here, ideally recorded, is a joy, complemented by Neary’s unforced eloquence. If Bennett veers towards nonchalance – this is the man who lost confidence when offered the chance to make a life in Leipzig, his key legacy being to have arranged its first cricket match – this duo keep it buoyant with intense focus and colour.

Hensel proves the dark horse here, her two miniatures shot with gothic shadow. The turbulent Fantasia (original titled ‘sonata’) in G minor has a touch of Northanger Abbey, comedy rubbing shoulders with heart-stopping depth, while the sunny arioso of the Capriccio in A flat explodes into angry tumult. In both, one senses simmering power trapped in the confines of the salon piece form.

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Helen Wallace