Mendelssohn: The Complete Solo Piano Music, Vol. 1
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Movement 1: Allegretto con espressione
Movement 2: Tempo di menuetto
Movement 3: Adagio e senza tempo
Movement 4: Molto allegro e vivace
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