Mendelssohn: Cello Sonatas; Variations concertantes; Song Without Words Op. 109

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: L’OISEAU-LYRE
WORKS: Cello Sonatas; Variations concertantes; Song Without Words Op. 109
PERFORMER: Christophe Coin (vlc), Patrick Cohen (fpno)
CATALOGUE NO: 430 245-2 DDD
These performances dispel any notion that the cello is the most mellifluous and romantic of the string family. Christophe Coin and Patrick Cohen are tense and unyielding in their approach; there is no lack of virtuosity or technical skill, but the intense nature of these interpretations makes for bumpy and unrelaxing listening.

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It is no longer unusual to elect to play the fortepiano, rather than a modern instrument, for mid-19th-century repertory. If anything, it now needs to be justified on grounds other than that of authenticity. The 1835 instrument used here has a pleasant tone, particularly when heard alone, but in conjunction with the cello it sounds distant and rather muddy.

The real fault lies in the recording. The cello is generally far too close to the microphone, and the fortepiano could be given a great deal more prominence. The sleeve note reminds the listener that Mendelssohn regarded the stringed instrument as an accompaniment to the piano, but this wisdom seems to have been lost on the recording engineers.

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The best moments on this CD lie not in the hyper-energised outer movements but in the contemplative environment of the slow movements. Here Coin’s otherwise razor-edged tone is blunted and subdued, the balance more realistic, and Mendelssohn’s lyric charms sing the more freely. Christopher Lambton