Mendelssohn: Lieder ohne Worte

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COMPOSERS: Feliz Mendelssohn
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn: Lieder ohne Worte
WORKS: Lieder ohne Worte (Books 1-4); Five individual ‘Lieder ohne Worte)
PERFORMER: Ronald Brautigam (piano)


Initially I was not entirely convinced by the modern copy of an 1830 Pleyel, and I still feel there are moments – particularly when a tune is very close to its chordal accompaniment – where a modern instrument would be preferable. But soon I was relishing the clarity and sheer beauty of the sound and, for the most part, of Ronald Brautigam’s playing.

He is, without any doubt, one of the finest pianists around, and his despatch of Mendelssohn’s fastest pieces is thrilling – we have Wagner’s testimony that Mendelssohn was something of a speed merchant and Brautigam goes with the flow, but with no trace of muddle or haste (except perhaps in the extraordinary chromatic accompaniment to ‘La fuite’ from Op. 53). What I find less easy to forgive, though, is his habit of signposting climaxes and endings. No one wants these wonderful Mendelssohn pieces given the typewriter treatment. But with repetition, the marked delaying of important notes – as if to say, ‘Ready, folks? Here comes a climax’ – becomes wearisome. Mendelssohn was enough of a technician not to need this kind of ‘expressive’ intervention. Curiously, if fortunately, the habit dies out through Op. 38 (there is one irritating pause before the high A flat at the end of ‘Duetto’) and is mercifully absent from a superb Op. 53. Did producer Ingo Petry perhaps have a word at half time? We may never know…


Roger Nichols