Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Kaleidoscope’s “Mendelssohn Coupling” Album

courtesy of A440 Arts

Unless I am mistaken, my first encounter with an album presenting music composed by both Mendelssohn siblings took place in January of 2013 when Quatuor ébène released their Felix & Fanny CD. The “program” for this release situated Fanny’s only quartet, composed in 1834 after five years of marriage to the Prussian court painter Wilhelm Hensel, between two of her brother’s quartets, the Opus 13 in A minor, completed in 1837, and his final quartet, Opus 80 in F minor, composed in 1847. At the beginning of this month, Chandos released its third album of the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective; and this one takes a different approach to the siblings.

On this album it is Felix that is represented by only a single composition. However, that piece is seldom encountered, since it was scored for piano, violin, two violas, cello, and bass. It was composed in 1824, before his first string quartet (Opus 12 in E-flat major, completed in 1829) but after his earliest quartet in E-flat major, composed in 1823 but not published until 1879. Like that quartet, the sextet was published posthumously, given the opus number 110. The rest of the album is devoted to Fanny. It concludes with an early quartet for violin, viola, cello, and piano, composed in 1822. This is preceded by her Opus 11 piano trio in D minor, completed in that fatal year for her brother, 1847.

As can be guessed, six of the Kaleidoscope players contribute to this album: violinist Elena Urioste, violists Juan-Miguel Hernandez and Rosalind Ventris, cellist Laura van der Heijden, Chi-chi Nwanoku on bass, and Tom Poster on piano. Poster is the group’s Director, and his Co-Director is Urioste. The Collective itself casts a wide web, which accounts for the variations in personnel from one album to the next.

During her residency in the Chamber Music Masters Series at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 2012, cellist Bonnie Hampton used her Master Class to observe that Felix was often “burning his candle at both ends.” She was thinking of his achievements during his tenure as the music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, which began in 1835; but he was firing on all cylinders long before then. The 1824 sextet shows his enthusiasm in working with novel combinations of instruments, but I have to confess that the way in which he worked with that combination never really got my juices flowing. On the other hand, Fanny’s Opus 11 trio was more successful in getting me to sit up and take notice. The 1822 quartet is less ambitious, but it still reveals inventive moments that suggests that early Fanny has more to offer the attentive listener than early Felix.

Personally, I think it is about time that we encounter some new “all Fanny” albums!

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