From the opening bars of the Rondo capriccioso—solemn but inviting—there can be no doubt that we are in the presence of a classy composer, although one who is short-sightedly underrated in some quarters. Mendelssohn brought genius to the art of writing music, as man and boy, someone not just with a flair for creating and playing instruments, and doing so from his most tender years, but with real experience of other disciplines, having been born into an artistically stimulating household. After the measured introduction, the Rondo itself sparkles with delight thanks to Howard Shelley's poised and elfin fingers, the music light and fluffy. Just a couple of small reservations though, one being the timbre of the piano, which is a little lacking in bass body at times, if admirably clear, and the suspsicion (no more than that) that some dynamic changes are not all of Shelley's doing—they can be a little abrupt—although I am sure that this paragon pianist would not be looking to the control room for any artificial aid.
Moving swiftly on, and before the writ is served, there is much to enjoy on this second volume of Shelley's survey of Mendelssohn's complete solo piano music (and with no further doutbting distractions), enough to want to explore the first release of this series (reviewed in March 2013). Each work here has character: the mysterious opening of the Fantasia on 'The last rose of summer' is reminiscent of Beethoven's 'Tempest' Sonata before a simple statement of the named ditty. What follows are ingenious departures from it, and no pushover for the pianist. Fantasias, caprices and songs are the order of the day in this compliation—short-form pieces, 22 in total (including the three movements that make up the F sharp minor Fantasia, 'Sonate ecossaise')—that bear testament to Mendelssohn's imagination and sure-footedness. They are all eminently attractive, a mix of the agreeably tuneful, romantically pictorial, invigoratingly dashing and elegantly crafted. Shelley is the stylish master of it all, not least the roulade of notes that are often found of the printed page and which need to find their way to the pianist's fingers.
Books 2 and 3 of the Songs without words include some gems, and also some spirited numbers (for example, No 4 of Book 2 is marked 'Agitato e con fuoco'). Full of narrative whatever the tempo, this set concludes with the well-known and enigmatic 'Venetianisches Gondollied' with Mendelssohn exploring similar waters to those found in Chopin's Barcarolle. Similar delights follow in Book 3, the concluding 'Duetto' melting the heart in a manner that is rather Schumannesque, and so lovingly shaped by Shelley. Yes, all good stuff, and thoroughly recommended.