Barbara Meister, Felix Mendelssohn: Songs Without Words

Steve Holtje

By Steve Holtje

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Mendelssohn (1809-1847) earned pianists 'devotion with his Songs Without Words, eight collections of short solo piano pieces grouped in volumes of six songs. Six volumes appeared over the years 1830-45; the final two were published posthumously. At least half of these delightfully ingratiating pieces are playable by amateurs, but the gorgeous melodies of the easy songs (for instance, the hymn-like "Op. 19 No. 4" and the minor-key nostalgia of the three "Venetian Boat Songs") are as appealing as the more typically Mendelssohnian torrents of notes in a knuckle-buster such as "Op. 30 No. 4."

Daniel Barenboim's cycle remains the acme of complete recordings, but Meister offers an alternative with more extreme rubato and impulsively Romantic interpretations. At times that impulsiveness slightly outstrips her technique, but that's also a matter of her prizing legato phrasing over clarity. As one might imagine, this means Meister is usually more successful in the less-dense works.