This collection of Mendelssohn piano works is somewhat mysteriously decorated with shots of German pianist Sebastian Knauer, sitting at an al fresco piano overlooking Hamburg's harbor areas (both Mendelssohn and Knauer originally came from Hamburg). Contained inside is a collection of Mendelssohn piano pieces that have for the most part been recorded many times -- Songs without Words, along with different kinds of piano pieces for contrast, as well as the more spacious Variations sérieuses, Op. 54, and Rondo capriccioso, Op. 14. Four tracks are billed as world-premiere recordings, but three are only premieres of certain editions or versions, and the booklet contains no information as to why these might be noteworthy. The fourth is an unfinished Song without Words in E flat major (track 15) with a new completion by Mendelssohn biographer Larry Todd, who wrote the concise and useful booklet notes; there is also a brief essay by Knauer himself. Knauer's readings don't break startling new ground, but they're attractive, rather subdued performances in the mold of one of Knauer's teachers, Philippe Entremont. Knauer has the same feeling of power directed into elegance and independence of the fingers rather than into sheer volume. The Songs without Words reveal plenty of small harmonic details in the internal voices without any damage to the simplicity of the basic melodic lines and to evocative details like the Venetian gondolier harmonies included in two of the pieces included. The Variations sérieuses perhaps lack a certain pathos, but pianists will encounter fine points throughout that can be applied to their own performances. Booklet notes are in German and English.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim