Mendelssohn: Cello Sonata in B flat, Op. 45; Cello Sonata in D, Op. 58; Variations concertantes

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Berlin Classics
WORKS: Cello Sonata in B flat, Op. 45; Cello Sonata in D, Op. 58; Variations concertantes
PERFORMER: Jan Vogler (cello), Louis Lortie (piano)
There’s no use pretending Mendelssohn’s cello sonatas are among his profoundest chamber works, but they contain a good deal of fine music, and no composer knew better how to reconcile the opposing sound-worlds of piano and cello. The first of the two sonatas, together with the Variations concertantes, was written for Mendelssohn’s younger brother Paul, who was an amateur cellist; but in all cases the piano parts were clearly conceived for Mendelssohn himself, and they demand a virtuoso player. Louis Lortie certainly answers to that description – indeed his admirable keyboard facility seems sometimes to have tempted him into tempi that fail to allow the music adequate breathing-space. This is particularly true of the opening movements in both sonatas, which are so unrelentingly quick that they canaccommodate the changing colours and moods. On the other hand, Lortie’s flowing tempo for the chorale-like episodes of the D major Sonata’s slow movement manages to minimise Mendelssohn’s cloying atmosphere of Protestant devoutness; and the brilliance of his playing is well suited to the Variations.


Lortie is well partnered by the German cellist Jan Vogler, though he’s inclined to be more stolid than inspired. There’s more passion in Steven Isserlis’s performances (RCA), but Melvyn Tan’s piano-playing is a tad bloodless, and his jangly 1839 fortepiano is decidedly an acquired taste. Perhaps the best compromise is the recording by Mischa Maisky and Sergio Tiempo. Maisky can be exaggeratedly expressive, but there’s no doubting his sincerity, and the playing itself is unfailingly assured. Misha Donat