The near-symbiotic relationship between Mendelssohn and his older sister, examined in my forthcoming book Genius and Anxiety, was so central to both musicians’ lives that Felix was felled by a stroke on hearing of Fanny’s death and died before the year was out.
Fanny, the first to evince musical talent, was silenced by their father as she neared puberty in order not to deflect attention from her genius kid brother. In her 30s she found a publisher and began – to Felix’s chagrin – to produce chamber music. His anger abated on finding that the music was of high quality. At their last meeting, the pair sat at the piano and gleefully played each other’s latest works.
It is almost impossible on record to hear them together, which is why the present release is such a gift. Between Felix’s two sonatas for cello and piano, we hear a delicate Fantasia in G minor by Fanny, followed by a delicious, meditative Capriccio in A-flat. Beside Fanny’s secure inner voice, Felix sounds hard-sell and bombastic. Where he is writing for instant applause, she has a more distant audience in mind.
The performers, Johannes Moser and Alisdair Beatson, capture this contrast to perfection. It’s my favourite Mendelssohn listening of the year.
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