Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Personal, heart-felt music from an important composer

This new Sterling disc of music by Felix Mendelssohn's sister Fanny Hensel is very welcome. Of the eight composers included in Anna Beer's excellent book Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music, Hensel came out on top: "Fanny Mendelssohn composed more music and, moreover (some would say) more music of a higher quality, than any other composer in this book." While Hensel wrote in a variety of genres, from cantatas to chamber music, it was as a pianist and a composer for the piano that so many of her particular gifts become apparent. Though character pieces like her brother's Lied ohne Worte, Hensel called her works "piano lieder". In them she uses surprising harmonies and modulations to explore a wide range of moods. These pieces for piano were particularly dear to her: she "called my piano pieces after the names of my favourite haunts, partly because they really came into my mind at these spots, partly because our pleasant excursions were in my mind while I was writing them." It's this personal, heart-felt character that I find so appealing about so much of Hensel's music.

The Serenata in G minor shows Hensel's lyrical gifts, but also that ability to set a mood, with the dry wit to subvert our expectations about what might follow. This is music of a composer increasingly independent of her brother's musical influence and confident of her own abilities.

Solveig Wikman's playing is assured and strong, with no lack of virtuosic technique when called for, and a nice touch in Hensel's more lyrical moments. The last impression one gets of Hensel from listening to this music is one of genteel dilettantism. I heartily recommend this release.

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