Mendelssohn’s pieces for cello-piano duo are among his most exuberantly appealing works of chamber music. David Geringas and Ian Fountain here present both Sonatas alongside eight Songs without Words and the joyous Variations Concertantes.
It was a good idea to start the programme with Sonata No. 2, Op. 58, a brilliantly structured piece full of powerful contrasts to which both musicians bring a suitable heft and force. (There’s a riveting sweep to the Allegro vivace in the First Sonata, too, and plenty of light and shade in the intricate play between the instruments in the development.) The Second Sonata’s winsome Allegretto scherzando is gracefully articulated, and Fountain finds a warmly rounded tone for the sonorous Adagio chorale.
Geringas ‘sings’ this recitative with such lovingly fluency, I was unprepared for the oddly scrappy performance of the famous Song without Words in E minor (Op. 109). Here, where lightness and detail are required by Mendelssohn’s lyrical simplicity, the delicate semi-quaver turn is frequently crushed and some notes don’t sound cleanly.
This is not the case for all the Songs (the Venetian barcarolles are finely dramatised), but one senses Geringas’s focus was on the meatier works, and the Variations are a tour de force.
There’s stiff competition from Isserlis/Tan’s recording (BMG). Where they win is in bringing light and air into the sound, both physically, and through Isserlis’s illuminating imagination. Tan’s fortepiano can sound brittle, however, and one could argue I am not comparing like with like (the pitch is lower and not all these Songs without Words are included), in which case I would strongly recommend this as a modern version of the major works.