Fanny Mendelssohn: Piano Sonatas

Heather Schmidt

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Fanny Mendelssohn: Piano Sonatas Review

by James Manheim

Since the rediscovery of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, sister of Felix, has begun, there have been several recordings devoted to her piano music, both compared with that of her brother and, as here, flying solo. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of hearing it without reference to Felix Mendelssohn's music is that some of the music, such as the Allegro molto agitato in D minor heard here (track 14), may well exceed anything Felix wrote in terms of sheer virtuosity. Fanny must have been an extraordinary pianist to have made her way through the octaves in this work at age 18 in anything like a satisfactory fashion, and this album as a whole is sufficient to touch off a fresh round of irritation that her music was partially suppressed by pressure from most of the men in her life (her husband, court painter Wilhelm Hensel, fortunately excepted) to knock off the music and get to getting barefoot and pregnant. Canadian-American pianist Heather Schmidt produces exceptionally well-wrought versions of the pianistic showpieces, which were influenced less by her brother than by the likes of Friedrich Kalkbrenner, and she has a quiet, understated style that's very effective in the various pieces here that correspond to Felix Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words. In the two piano sonatas, each of which has surprising turns in its sonata forms that owe little to Felix, it is possible to imagine more passionate performances, especially in the Piano Sonata in G minor, and especially there in the quite profound Adagio (track 9). But this will be a good release for libraries to have on hand, given the rising interest in including music by women in general music courses, and it makes a reasonable place to start for anyone interested in the composer.

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