Mendelssohn: Variations concertantes; Two Lieder ohne Worte; Cello Sonatas

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Variations concertantes; Two Lieder ohne Worte; Cello Sonatas
PERFORMER: Lynn Harrell (cello), Bruno Canino (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 430 198-2 DDD
This disc contains every note Mendelssohn wrote for cello and piano, as well as a few he didn’t: Lynn Harrell throws in his own arrangement of the well-known ‘Song Without Words’ in E major. (The other ‘Song Without Words’ here is not, pace the CD listing, a transcription, but an original composition.)

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Mendelssohn’s two cello sonatas are certainly not on the same level as the two by Brahms, let alone the five by Beethoven, but they do offer some resourceful solutions to this medium’s notorious balance problems. The first, together with a set of Variations concertantes, was written for Mendelssohn’s brother Paul, a keen amateur cellist. Its material is not always memorable, but the middle movement is an attractive serenade of gentle melancholy.

The second sonata is altogether more ambitious, with an expansive opening movement that captures something of the Italian Symphony’s exuberance, and a Scherzo making imaginative use of pizzicato. The virtuoso finale is preceded by a curious amalgam of sentimental chorale melody and impassioned recitative.

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Lynn Harrell’s playing is strong and characterful throughout, but he has, alas, been placed far too close to the microphone. The result of this is that his tone sounds disturbingly coarse, and never blends with the piano. Quite apart from the regrettable deficiencies of the recording, there is a noticeable lack of elegance and poise about the music-making itself.