Joanne Polk

Joanne Polk Plays Fanny Mendelssohn

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More than 150 years after her death, the piano works of Fanny Mendelssohn are still relatively unexplored territory. This double-disc set by Joanne Polk covers some of her earliest and her last compositions, most only published in the first decade of the 21st century. The liner notes (contained in a pdf file on disc 1) are extensive, going into detail about Fanny's life as well as each piece here. One thing is clear: Mendelssohn's piano music is well-worth examining for pianists and listeners. The sets of pieces here may have generic names -- stücke or pieces -- but they are well-written songs without words or etudes. There are similarities, naturally, to the Songs without Words of Felix Mendelssohn; in a few instances, such as No. 3 and No. 4 of the Songs for Pianoforte and the opening of the Serenata (No. 2 of the Five Piano Pieces), almost literal similarities are heard. However, Fanny's way of constructing her songs goes beyond that of Felix, even in her earliest works. She isn't satisfied with the ternary ABA pattern that exhausts an idea in two or three minutes, no matter how beautiful those brief moments can be. Her pieces are more often episodic, almost like rondos, with more extensive thematic development, often through unexpected harmonies. Like Felix, Fanny was inspired by places she visited. The Four Roman Pieces were written after a visit to Rome, as was "Villa Medicis" of the Five Piano Pieces. The third of the Four Roman Pieces begins gently like a gondola-song, but moves into an active fantasia- or capriccio-like work. The etudes and Virtuosic Piano Pieces show that Fanny was well-aware of contemporary pianists and techniques, although she was not a professional or concert pianist. Even in the second of the Character Pieces, there is a panache in the arpeggios that travel both down and up between the theme's phrases. Polk shines a light on Fanny Mendelssohn's music in a way that should bring more attention to the work of such a deserving Romantic composer.

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