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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: 17 minutes 4 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)

Lieder ohne Worte I, Op 19b

Other recordings available for download
Lívia Rév (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Mendelssohn is inextricably associated with the genre of the Lied ohne Worte, described by Schumann as an art song abstracted for the piano, with its text deleted. The origins of this new genre are shrouded in some mystery, but it may trace its source to a childhood game the composer played with his elder sister, Fanny—the second child prodigy in the Mendelssohn family—in which the two composed piano pieces and then added texts to them. Mendelssohn’s first datable Lied ohne Worte, written for Fanny, is from 1828, but not until a few years later, in 1832, did he hit upon the idea of publishing a set of piano Lieder as a counterpart to a set of songs. Both were assigned the opus number 19, though today they are distinguished as Op 19a (Sechs Gesänge) and Op 19b (Sechs Lieder ohne Worte).

The six pieces of Op 19b offer keyboard simulations of three vocal types, the solo Lied (Nos 1 and 2), with a treble cantilena supported by an accompaniment below; duet (No 6), in which the melodic line is doubled in thirds or sixths; and part-song (Nos 3 and 4), featuring homophonic textures in chordal style. Two pieces (Nos 3 and 5) are of sufficient length to unfold in miniature sonata forms. The composer left every piece but the last untitled, though No 3, with its pursuing imitative lines and echoing horn calls, impresses as a Jagdlied (‘hunting song’), and No 4, which shares its key and some thematic material with No 3, as a Jägerlied (‘hunters’ song’). The muted No 6, the Venetianisches Gondellied, was the first of several that Mendelssohn composed and so titled, and was inspired by his visit to Venice in 1830. Its blurry pedal effects and gently undulating cross-rhythms magically conjure up the romantic allure of the Venetian lagoons.

Mendelssohn issued Op 19b and subsequent sets of Lieder ohne Worte in parallel German, French and English editions. In Paris the pieces first appeared as Romances sans paroles, and in England as Original Melodies for the Piano. The composer never used the now prevalent translation Songs without Words, nor did he authorize other descriptive titles fitted to the pieces in later editions, for example ‘Sweet Remembrance’ (No 1), ‘Regrets’ (No 2), and ‘Restlessness’ (No 5). Largely the whims of publishers, these accretions ran counter to Mendelssohn’s own aesthetic, to let the individual Lieder stand by themselves, and to trust the precision of musical expression over the ambiguities of words.

from notes by R Larry Todd © 2013

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