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Hyperion Records

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The Wissower Klinken with view over the sea (c1815) by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)
AKG London
Track(s) taken from CDA67935
Recording details: March 2012
St Michael's Church, Highgate, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Annabel Connellan
Engineered by Ben Connellan
Release date: March 2013
Total duration: 23 minutes 36 seconds

'Immaculate, lightly-pedalled brilliance, unfaltering stylistic assurance, warmth and flexibility … Hyperion's sound and presentation complement Shelley's admirable performances' (Gramophone)

'When Mendelssohn 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 liked the sparsity of his pedalling, leaving the composer's lines to do their work' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Fans of fireworks won't be disappointed, in either the opening Capriccio in F sharp minor or the astonishing bravura finale of the Sonata in E major, both the work of the teenage Mendelssohn. Shelley gives us a further glimpse of the restlessly romantic mind of this wunderkind in the cycle of seven Characterstücke before wrapping us in the warm, gemütlich embrace of Book 1 of the Songs without Words. With playing of this quality this is going to be a series to treasure' (The Observer)

'The Seven Character Pieces, Op 7 … truly reveal the vast range of Mendelssohn's pianistic and compositional language … the programme notes are formidable and provide a veritable fund of information. Hyperion's sound quality is first-rate, as ever … Shelley's playing is faultless, and the clarity he brings to the voice-leading and the vast textures of the 'Fugue' has me listening repeatedly to this track' (International Record Review)

'I enjoyed listening to all these pieces, and thanks to Shelley’s exuberant pianism I am already looking forward to Volume Two' (Financial Times)

'The icing on the cake is that it is only volume one of a complete series. The Op 5 Capriccio is beautifully playful, revealed in astonishing, fluent playing and perfectly captured in Ben and Annabel Connellan's recording, while Shelley reveals the Op 6 Piano Sonata as a piece of real depth … a treasurable album' (International Piano)

'Felix Mendelssohn doesn’t get enough credit for the tremendous craft that underlies his music. And musicians don’t get enough credit for the skill they have to use to make it sound pretty. So hats off to veteran British pianist Howard Shelley for making magic on the start of his Mendelssohn journey. His new album for Britain’s Hyperion label is Felix Mendelssohn, The Complete Solo Piano Music – 1, so there is going to be a lot more brilliant work to come.This album is a treat from beginning to end, with Shelley knowing exactly to turn from showman to gentle tone painter. This is a classic case of an iron fist in a velvet glove, rendering music with elegance and conviction' (Musical Toronto, Canada)

Piano Sonata in E major, Op 6

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Mendelssohn was among the first generation of musicians to experience and come to terms with Beethoven’s now abstract, now lyrical, and now rarefied late style. According to Robert Schumann, in his Piano Sonata in E major Op 6 (1826) the seventeen-year-old Mendelssohn touched ‘Beethoven with his right hand, while looking up to him as to a saint, and being guided at the other by Carl Maria von Weber (with whom it would be more possible to be on a human footing)’. If Weber’s sparkling virtuosity informed the vivacious, driving finale of the sonata, it was Beethoven who left the most profound mark. Among points of contact between Op 6 and Beethoven’s late style are: the cantabile style of the opening first movement; key relationships a tone apart; broadly spaced chords and special pedal effects; the linking of various movements; the use of a free, unmeasured recitative in the slow movement; and cyclic applications of thematic material.

Near the end of the exposition in the first movement Mendelssohn pays homage to Beethoven by alluding to a luminous passage near the end of the slow movement of the ‘Archduke’ Piano Trio (1811), a work that lies on the threshold of Beethoven’s late style. But it was Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in A major, Op 101 (1816) that especially captured the young composer’s attention. Op 101 and Op 6 begin in E major, with gently rising melodic lines doubled in thirds (Beethoven) or tenths (Mendelssohn). While E major is the tonic of Op 6, it is the dominant of Op 101, so that Beethoven’s sonata begins as if in medias res, and then charts a course toward its A major tonic. Mendelssohn thus took the more conventional route, and in this regard his first movement might seem a pale imitation of Beethoven’s.

The second movement offers a puckish minuet that approaches the quality of a scherzo, but it is the third movement Adagio on which Mendelssohn lavished the most care. Here he begins with a turning figure reminiscent of Beethoven’s Adagio in Op 101, but then develops the figure into an extended, unmetred recitative, with four descending entries in imitative counterpoint. The effect is of a paraphrase or, better, a re-hearing of Beethoven. Subsequently, this recitative alternates with a hymn-like Andante, as if searching for a theme, ultimately answered by the arrival of the finale, linked to the slow movement through a fantasy-like transition. When all is said and done, Mendelssohn springs one final surprise near the end of the sonata, where the youthful energy of the finale unexpectedly yields to a recall of the opening of the work, bringing the music back to its source, and framing the whole.

from notes by R Larry Todd © 2013

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