The 2007 Gramophone ‘Artist of the Year' performs ‘Mendelssohn Piano Trios 1&2', a recording that was very well received by the critics, gaining Gramophone Editor's Choice and Diapason d'Or plaudits. Julia is joined by pianist Jonathan Gilad and cellist Daniel Müller-Schott in a recording Gramophone describes as ‘irresistible'.
‘In sum, this release's positive qualities merit a warm, if not unequivocal recommendation.' ClassicsToday.com
‘This has to be one of the best discs of chamber music making I have ever heard.' SA-CD.net
Recorded at the Deutschlandfunk Sendesaal, Cologne, Germany 14th-16th February 2006
Executive Producers: Wolf Werth and Job Maarse
Recording Producer: Job Maarse
Balance Engineer: Jean-Marie Geijsen
Recording Engineer / Editor: Sebastian Stein
Heaven and Earth
Piano Trios in D minor & C minor by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy
Classical moderation and Romantic sensitivity are the signatures for the music of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Not, however, in an anachronistic, but in a progressive sense of the word, even transgressing boundaries: “Nobody can forbid me to take pleasure in this and to continue working on the legacy left to me by the great masters. After all, it is not the idea that each person has to start afresh from the beginning; however, the work should also carry on from where it left off in accordance with one’s creative powers, and not be solely an unimaginative repetition of what has been”, thus did he formulate his self-confident, aesthetic concept. And correspondingly, as most of his contemporaries including Franz Liszt agreed, he thus became one of the “most outstanding German composers” of the early 19th century.
A comprehensive education was part of the family tradition as laid down by Felix’ grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn, the eminent Jewish philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment. For that reason, Felix Mendelssohn was able to hone his skills as a composer in the prosperous family home, in which comfortable respectability, extensive cultural interests and strict work discipline were the order of the day. He was born in Hamburg in 1809, son of the banker Abraham Mendelssohn and his wife Lea, and grew up in Berlin from 1811 onwards. While still a child, he became well acquainted with the intellectual elite of his time. His music teacher, Carl Friedrich Zelter, principal of the Berlin Singakademie, introduced the 12-year-old Felix to Johann Wolfgang Goethe and, in 1825, the prominent composer Luigi Cherubini managed to convince Felix’s doubtful father of his son’s extraordinary musical talent. In order to consolidate the acceptance of his civil status in Germany, Abraham Mendelssohn had converted to Christianity, confirmed his integration with the additional name Bartholdy, and had his son Felix baptized a Protestant. Thus the course was set for a career as composer and conductor.
On this intellectual foundation, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy expanded and renovated the aesthetic structure of the classical music culture, by adding his own forms such as the concert-overture to William Shakespeare’s Midsummer night’s dream or original genres such as the Octet for Strings. Besides, his reading of world literature strongly influenced his work, which is the reason why his oeuvre is dominated by a lyrical-epic style. “He was the first musician to actually make music right in front of the ‘fine society’ – in the good sense of the word. He was not a gruff, hermit-like German citizen, such as Bach, but an educated and versatile man, with easy social skills, prosperous and civilized, who was known throughout almost the whole of Germany, and whose company was sought in all select circles”, thus wrote the author Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl in 1850. Admittedly, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was spectacularly successful in the international circles, especially in London, where “flattery was heaped upon him by the aristocracy”: nevertheless, he continued to concentrate on Germany despite many cultural journeys and concert engagements in Europe. His appointment as director of the Gewandhaus concerts in Leipzig in 1835 was extremely welcome, as “I have now gained a firm foothold in Germany, and will no longer need to spend half my life travelling abroad.” Just as his manner of composition was based on historical continuity, likewise he designed unconventional concert cycles as Kapellmeister, during which the Leipzig audiences were able to experience classical music as it developed: “The artless among them were able to learn, the bright ones smiled: in short, the backwards step into the past may well have been a step forward”, thus wrote his colleague and friend Robert Schumann, happily.
While consolidating his professional situation, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was also able to find happiness in his private life: in 1837, he married Cécile, the eldest daughter of the widow Jeanrenaud, in Frankfurt am Main. Although his father had died just two years previously, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was now able to revel “comfortably” in his family, and felt “so peacefully happy, as never before since leaving the family home. I am convinced that I should either take this position (in Leipzig)or none at all.”
With reference to these biographical events, death and love may well have been the subject for the Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 49, as this work dating from 1839 simply pulsates with a yearning for a harmony of feelings as in heaven. In a double perspective: i.e. as almost paradisaical joy in the lyrical theme of the Molto allegro agitato, with the virtuoso piano part, and as consolation in the dialogue-like elegy between the violin and cello in the Andante. With lively dance-like gestures, the Scherzo then leads into a rhythmically striking Rondo-Finale. A vague ambivalence is present here, which also shows itself in the division of roles between the piano part – which draws attention to itself – and the frequently discreet strings. The four-movement sonata form refers to models developed by Ludwig van Beethoven for his piano trios. And on top of that, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy clearly observed the trends of his times with regard to chamber music, without neglecting the Classical style. He himself played the piano part during the première on February 1, 1840 in Leipzig, whereas the violin part was played by the leader of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, Ferdinand David, and the cellist was Carl Wittmann. Robert Schumann pronounced this composition “the master trio of contemporary music”, an assessment which remains valid to this day, as the work has retained its popularity.
Although the carefree happiness within his family – the Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s had five children – concealed the grief he felt at the death of his father, the demise of his mother in 1843 and perhaps also the discovery of a deterioration in his own health left clear traces in the composer’s works. Scepticism is the mood of the Piano Trio in C minor: Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy wrote this in 1844 / 45 and performed the work in Leipzig that year on December 20, with the same musicians with whom he had given the première of the Piano Trio in D minor. The chromatic lines and dark sound-toning of the theme in the Allegro energico e con fuoco reflects a crisis, which nevertheless regains its balance. The Andante espressivo could well be meant as a farewell song, not full of despair, but tinted in various different timbres by means of organically circulating motifs. The Scherzo has an almost hasty poetic style, which does not find tranquillity and moderation until the hymnic Allegro appassionato, in which Bach’s Chorale “Herr Gott, Dich fürchten wir alle” can be recognized. The work, dedicated to Louis Spohr, returns the emotions earthwards, binds them into a dense fabric of equally important voices. Here, aesthetic harmony has become a compact unity. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy died on November 4, 1847 after suffering a stroke.