The songs of Felix Mendelssohn have received a spate of recordings, and not only because 2009 was the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth. The ongoing exploration of pianos from the early and middle 19th century has helped bring a proper sense of dimension to these works, which reveal many small touches of melody and harmony once you stop wishing they were Schubert songs. They're songs of a different sort, well crafted and evocative in detail rather than daring and transcedent. The 1844 Erard piano of Reinild Mees combines nicely with the modestly sized but attractive sound of American tenor Thomas Michael Allen. Their chief gambit here is to program Mendelssohn songs together with the piano pieces known as Lieder ohne Worte, or Songs Without Words. This sets a musical soirée mood that's right for Mendelssohn, and it also raises the question of the relationship between the "songs with and without words." Here pianist Mees offers subtle treatments (and in general she sort of steals the show from the tenor here with her perfectly controlled, straightforward accompaniments). One might say that some of the Songs Without Words are truly wordless songs, but others aren't, and Mees takes an interesting stab at distinguishing between the two. In the Lied ohne Worte, Op. 19/4, for example, she emphasizes the very vocal melody, but she alters the relationship between the left and right hands in other pieces. Also of interest are the multiple pieces of specific types (spring songs, night songs, wandering songs), and especially the juxtaposition of the Lied ohne Worte, Op. 19b/6, the famous "Venetianisches Goldellied" (Venetian Gondoliers' Song), with an actual vocal Venetian Gondoliers' Song, Op. 57/5; the two pieces certainly have a lot in common, but the piano piece is more than a song stripped of its words. Nicely recorded, this may be the Mendelssohn song disc for those with a serious interest in the composer rather than for the casual listener. Detailed booklet notes are given in English and German.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim