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Mendelssohn: Songs Without Words, Vol. 1 (Donohoe)

Peter Donohoe (piano) (Chandos)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Songs Without Words, Vol. 1: Rondo capriccioso, Op. 14; Trois fantaisies ou Caprices, Op. 16; Songs Without Words – selection
Peter Donohoe (piano)
Chandos CHAN 20252   79:56 mins


Hearing Mendelssohn play the piano in 1839, The Times critic Henry Chorley noted that his expressive style ‘required not the garnishing of trills and appoggiature, or the aid of changes of time’, while Sir George Grove, of dictionary fame, quoted the composer as saying of ritardandos at the ends of pieces, ‘they think it expression, but it is sheer affectation’. Elsewhere Grove makes it clear that ‘rubatophiles’ were already in good supply in his day as in ours, and that as a result Mendelssohn could be thought unusual. Peter Donohoe is far from being extreme in this area, but this recording, containing the Rondo capriccioso and the three Fantaisies Op. 16 as well as a selection of 24 Songs without Words, does contain enough unmarked tempo changes to be at times irritating.

Yet more so are the unmarked pauses, most notably in the third Fantaisie where Donohoe interpolates a long one between a fortissimo and a pianissimo: are we listeners all such snowflakes these days that we feel Mendelssohn’s clear intention for one to run up against the other as offensive?

Technically, of course, Donohoe is absolutely secure, as well as generously displaying the love of this music that he mentions in his note. I was sad therefore, my hopes being raised on seeing that the final piece is the Duetto, to find that here, of all places, his affection lapses and Mendelssohn’s magical stream, as well as being too loud, is strewn with rocks.

Roger Nichols

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