Mendelssohn's piano music as a whole has been underexposed over the years, making this complete six-volume cycle by the indefatigable Howard Shelley especially welcome. Each volume contains a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar pieces, and for the familiar here you have to wait until the end, when Shelley gives a gentle, thoroughly idiomatic performance of the Sechs Lieder ohne Worte, Book V, Op. 62 (Six Songs Without Words). The rest of the music may well be unknown to many listeners, at least outside Mendelssohn's second homeland of Britain. The Six Preludes and Fugues, Op. 35, were assembled from earlier fugues with added preludes in 1837. Mendelssohn did not initially conceive of them as Bachian prelude-and-fugue pairs, but moved in that direction over the course of the preludes' composition. They represent stages in the process by which Mendelssohn incorporated Bachian elements into his own style, and as such they're quite interesting: some of the preludes are essentially Songs Without Words; some are little etudes (the original conception), and some are closer to the Bachian model. Shelley takes a very quiet approach here, as if Mendelssohn were working out the music in his own quarters; this is effective but does not work so well with the rather vague sonic profile of the All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London. You also get an unpublished Andante cantabile e presto agitato that's related to the better-known Rondo capriccioso, Op. 14, and a delightful little piece called Lied written for Mendelssohn's honeymoon and unpublished until 1927. Recommended for Mendelssohn fans, as indeed is Shelley's entire series.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Six Preludes and Fugues Op. 35|
|Andante cantabile e Presto agitato WoO6|
|Sechs Lieder ohne Worte Book V Op. 62|