Sergio Monteiro

Mendelssohn: Early Piano Works

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Felix Mendelssohn was almost as renowned a child prodigy as Mozart was, and he was arguably more accomplished by age 11, when the sequence of piano works on this release begins, than Mozart was. Mendelssohn's early music, including the works here, has been recorded from time to time, but the idea of Brazilian pianist Sergio Monteiro here, of putting much of his early keyboard music together, is more original. Its most remarkable aspect is that Mendelssohn's involvement with Bach's music was not just an enterprise undertaken in connection with his later large choral works: it was there from the beginning. The album concludes with a series of fugues that Monteiro perhaps makes more of than is really there; they are certainly impressive enough for a teenager, but they have an exercise-like quality. More impressive are the two sonatas from the year 1820, when Mendelssohn was 11. Rather than imitating Mozart, or Hummel, or Beethoven, or any of the other models that he had at hand, Mendelssohn obviously immersed himself in Bach, and deployed Baroque structures as a way of directing his own growing virtuosity at the keyboard. Sample the finale of the "Piano Sonata in C minor," where Monteiro catches the sense of discovery of Bach. The opening and middle movements are more influenced by Mozart but show the same struggle with how to forge a personal virtuoso language, and they're extremely satisfying. Monteiro sets dimensions that bring out the music well, and he cultivates an unresonant sound, perhaps with the piano shut, that serves the music well (there is no indication that a historical piano was used). He is not so well served, however, by Naxos' wan sound here, captured in a university auditorium in Oklahoma City. On balance, however, a worthwhile portrait of the young Mendelssohn at the keyboard.

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