Solveig Wikman gives a performance of Fanny Mendelssohn’s 12 Piano Pieces and Four Roman Pieces

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COMPOSERS: Fanny Mendelssohn
LABELS: Sterling
ALBUM TITLE: Fanny Mendelssohn
WORKS: 12 Piano Pieces; Four Roman Pieces
PERFORMER: Solveig Wikman (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 1699

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A few bars of this music and you know you’re listening to Mendelssohn. But you might not realise, at first, which one. This is Fanny Mendelssohn Bartholdy, married name Hensel, enjoying a too-rare CD to herself. Her style is akin to Felix’s: the 12 Clavierstücke are effectively songs without words and the hallmarks are similar: the windswept yet poised sense of élan, the harmonic clarity, the surging textures, the apparently effortless flow of melody and tenderness without (too much) sentimentality.

Fanny and Felix were at first very close – but as Felix became an international celebrity, Fanny was supposedly being a housewife, making music constantly, yet really known only by the cognoscenti. Her husband favoured publishing her compositions; her brother did not. The set of 12 piano pieces dedicated to Felix in 1843 have still only been partially published. Influenced by the atmosphere of Italy following an extended trip there, highlights include a vivid Neapolitan-style number, a whirling tarantella and a gorgeously lyrical adagio. The Four Roman Pieces were inspired by the capital and ultimately bid the city a sorrowful farewell.

These pieces undoubtedly deserve strong advocacy, and Solveig Wikman, a passionate devotee of Hensel, plays them with much affection and unfailing spirit. The unconventional piano does not always help, though – it is a Bechstein model E, date not given – and the tone, though characterful, is not always as even as one might wish; sometimes melodies are subsumed under busy textures and the sense of perspective does not emerge as fully as it might. The recorded sound is also a little bit brittle. Nevertheless, it is a highly worthwhile release.

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Jessica Duchen