ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn: Capriccio in F sharp minor, Op. 5; Piano Sonata in E
WORKS: Capriccio in F sharp minor, Op. 5; Piano Sonata in E, Op. 6; Sieben Charakterstücke, Op. 7; Sechs Lieder ohne Worte Book I, Op. 19b
PERFORMER: Howard Shelley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA67935
Technically, this is a tremendous disc. All the evidence tells us that Mendelssohn was something of a speed merchant and when, as in the last of the Seven Characteristic Pieces, he asks for Presto, Shelley takes him at his word, with a fleetness and control that command admiration, not to mention envy.
He also brings a wide variety of dynamics and tone, well captured by the recording. I particularly like the sparsity of his pedalling, leaving the composer’s lines to do their own work. The 19th-century move to teaching harmony before counterpoint came a little too late for Mendelssohn, with the happy result that his chords always have a linear justification.
It follows, though, that any interruption of his linear processes carries dangers. His friend, the critic Henry Chorley remembered in Mendelssohn’s playing ‘its want of all the caprices and colourings of his contemporaries’; Sir George Grove, of dictionary fame, commented that, ‘he never himself interpolated a ritardando, or suffered it in any one else.’ Sadly, anything here at a slower tempo is subjected to the malaise of little hesitations, sometimes as bossy pointings-up of climaxes – the A minor Song Without Words from the first set suffers particularly badly. ‘They think it expression,’ said Mendelssohn, ‘but it is sheer affectation.’ His music does not need this kind of overkill.