Felix Mendelssohn

Sonata for cello & piano No. 2 in D major, Op. 58

    Description by James Reel

    Mendelssohn was briefly between jobs when he wrote the second of his two cello sonatas; he was making the transition from handling musical matters for the King of Prussia to assuming the directorship of the new Leipzig Conservatory. The attendant stress of this period is hardly reflected in this sonata, which the composer wrote for his brother Paul, a cellist. The first movement, Allegro assai vivace, begins with a surging, confident melody for the cello, underpinned by a pressing piano accompaniment. The keyboard then presents its own statement of the theme, the cello now relegated to the background. The piano remains dominant during the introduction of the more lyrical but still impulsive second subject, but the cello eventually gets its turn at an extension of the tune. Unwary listeners might gather that Mendelssohn is here launching a third subject, but the cello is clearly playing the flowing outline of the melody the piano has just broached. Indeed, the instruments will be treated as equals throughout most of this sonata, and often each is allowed a virtuoso flourish. Mendelssohn develops his themes sequentially and neatly, with an almost circumspect ardor that never subordinates one instrument to the other.

    The second movement, Allegretto scherzando, opens with a whimsical tune in the piano that is quickly taken up pizzicato by the cello. The melody becomes a bit more lyrical when played arco, but Mendelssohn reserves real songfulness for the second theme, which the cello sings out over a palpitating piano accompaniment. The movement continues with a repeat of the first section that turns uncharacteristically gruff before a brief reprise of the second theme, again in the cello. The instruments quietly slip away, playing fragments of both melodies.

    The Adagio begins with graceful piano arpeggios that follow the chord structure of the aria "Es ist vollbracht" from Bach's St. John Passion, reflecting Mendelssohn's lifelong devotion to the music of the German Baroque master. The piano recedes into the background as the cello offers an aria of its own, which grows more ardent and recitative-like as it progresses. Before long, the cello is playing its aria over the piano's chorale-like arpeggios; at the very end, the piano offers its own treatment of the cello's theme. Cellist Coenraad Bloemendal has proposed reading this movement as "a programmatic representation of the competing religious forces that coexisted in Mendelssohn's mind" -- the "Lutheran" piano part overlapping and ultimately embracing what Bloemendal describes as the cello's "cantorial chant."

    The extensive finale, Molto allegro e vivace, begins with hectic yet low-key material that recalls the composer's famous Spinning Song. All of this sonata-form movement's thematic elements are spun from the material of the first several measures. Mendelssohn does not vary or develop this material so much as use it to put the two instruments through accelerating, arduous runs, culminating in a final section that creates a dazzling effect without descending to vulgarity.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro assai vivace
    2. Allegretto scherzando
    3. Adagio
    4. Molto allegro e vivace

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 Alba / ALBA ABCD 434
    2018 Bridge BCD 9501
    2018 Willowhayne Records WHR 047
    2017 Decca
    2017 BIS BIS 2187
    2016 Champs Hill Records CHRCD 105
    2015 Hyperion CDA 68079
    2015 Genuin GEN 15341
    2014 Genuin GEN 14304
    2014 Stone Records 5060192780383
    2014 Farao Classics B 108079
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Danacord DACOCD 740
    2013 Coviello Classics COV 51304
    2013 Honens 201203201204
    2012 Brilliant Classics 94368
    2012 Blue Griffin Recording BG 237
    2012 La Dolce Volta LDV 05
    2012 Decca / Mercury Living Presence 001653302
    2011 Divox CDX 552572
    2011 Onyx ONYX 4078
    2011 Move MD 3338
    2011 Delos DE 3415
    2011 Camerata Records CMCD 28202
    2011 Cello Classics CC 1029
    2011 Chandos CHAN 10701
    2011 Linn Records 370
    2010 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler 8003
    2010 Orfeo 750101
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 509996886272
    2009 Berlin Classics 0115182
    2009 Divox 25203
    2009 Sony Music Entertainment 88697420722
    2009 Brilliant Classics 93888
    2009 CAvi-music 8553139
    2008 Decca 4756210
    2008 Arte Nova Classics 277880
    2008 Passacaille PAS 947
    2008 Testament 1419
    2008 Avie 2140
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93672
    2007 EMI Classics 89241
    2007 Scandinavian Classics 220596
    2007 JRI Recordings (formerly Jupiter) / JRI Recordings 102
    2005 Zig Zag Territoires ZZT040102
    2004 Brilliant 92393
    2004 Harmonia Mundi 1951383
    2003 Berlin Classics 0017562BC
    2003 Brilliant 99983
    2003 Analekta FL23166
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 585294-2
    2002 Live Classics 201
    2002 Deutsche Grammophon 471565
    2002 Classico 389
    2001 Centaur Records 2044
    2001 Ambitus 97832
    2000 Hyperion CDH55604
    1999 Koch Discover International DICD920586
    1998 Naxos 554356
    1997 Arte Nova 27788
    1997 Cala Records 0517
    1997 ASV 6196
    1997 Harmonia Mundi 290882
    1997 Harmonia Mundi 1901383
    1996 Mercury
    1996 Mercury 434 377-2MM
    1996 Live Classics 181
    1995 Dorian 90208
    1994 Naxos 550655
    1994 BMG 62553
    1991 Hyperion CDA66478
    Partridge 1137
    Biddulph Recordings 048
    Panton Records 811445
    Brilliant Classics 93672/17
    Brilliant 92393/17
    London 430198
    Discover 920227
    Supraphon 110938
    Giulia Recordings 201012
    Johannes Moser
    Claves 508604