Mendelssohn's piano music remains underrated and underperformed in today's recital programmes—with the exception of a handful of pieces that are probably played too much. That is a shame; it is so full of charm, character and opportunities for sophisticated pianistic virtuosity that it deserves a lot more attention. Howard Shelley is now halfway through his recording of the complete solo piano music—there are to be six volumes. First of all, it is a fantastic resource for exploring this repertoire; and besides, he gets under the music's skin with flying colours.
This programme matches very early works with later ones, spanning the 20 years from 1821 to 1841. The young Mendelssohn's piano pieces already bear the unmistakable stamp of his personal voice; the earliest piece on the disc is the most substantial, the Piano Sonata in G minor, a student work that the composer decided not to publish—he was only 12 when he wrote it. But very lovely it is, buzzing with warmth and Haydnish sparkle, plus a haunting slow movement. The most famous items are the Op 53 Songs without Words; and however well-known they are, it is rewarding to hear them in context.
Shelley has the ideal touch and tone for Mendelssohn: fleet-fingered, light and clear, with a fine balance between the energy and élan of this often very busy music and the clarity of its elegant melodic lines and supremely civilised phrasing. This match of performer and composer slides smoothly and smilingly into place from the start.