Mendelssohn’s Lieder Ohne Worte in Two Beautiful Versions by Perianes and Brautigam

Felix Mendelssohn

One of those famous underrated composers. I’ve read many times that Mendelssohn is “only” beautiful. Arrrgh! Even if his music were “only” beautiful, I’m sorry, but what would be wrong with this? Luckily, I don’t even agree with the “only”. Proof is here: these wonderful “Songs Without Words” – can somebody truly listen to this and call it “only beautiful” and not see the lyric depth?

These songs, actually 8 books of them, were written during nearly the entire lifetime of the composer.

There are many recordings of these available, one of the artists who is probably most closely associated with them is Daniel Barenboim.

However, I’d like to highlight here two very recent recordings from 2014 and 2014 respectively.

Javier Perianes

I have already reviewed his excellent Grieg recording here. Surprisingly enough, I had missed this great 2014 recording on Harmonia Mundi of a selection of the Lieder one Worte. Luckily, after discovering the Grieg, I ended up listening to this.

Felix Mendelssohn Lieder Ohne Worte Javier Perianes Harmonia Mundi

And what a beautiful recording it is. Nuanced, delicate, but passionate. Just what this music needs. On top of a selection of Mendelssohn’s Lieder you also get he Andante con variationi op. 82, the Rondo Capriccioso op. 14, a Prelude and Fuge, and his 17 Variations sérieuses op. 54.

This recording has received a lot of praise, the Classica “Choc”, 5 stars by Diapason and Fono Forum, and I full-heartedly agree with this! Sorry Mr. Barenboim, but this is my new reference.

However, if you’ve been following this blog for a bit, you may have noticed that I have a special weak spot for piano music on historic instruments. They just give a completely new and fresh perspective on familiar works, compared to the modern Steinway.

However, as I’ve noted in my review of Andras Schiff’s recent Schubert recording, the sound of a historic fortepiano is obviously much more variable than what Steinway’s factories produce these days, so you really need to make sure you like the sound of the particular historic instrument being recorded.

Luckily, in the next album, released on BIS, both the playing and the instrument are superb.

Ronald Brautigam

Mendelssohn Lieder Ohne Worte Ronald Brautigam  BIS

Brautigam is one of the leading pianists on historic instruments. His Beethoven cycle is one great example. He plays a modern reconstruction by Paul McNulty of a 1830 Pleyel. It just sounds beautiful. The Pleyels at the time, with their big local competitor Erard, were counted among the best pianos France produced, and this was at the time when Paris (closely followed by Vienna) ruled the cultural world.

Unlike Perianes, Brautigam plays systematically the first four books of the lieder, without adding any other material (with the exception of some more lieder without an individual opus number).

Again, the playing like with Perianes, is absolutely top-notch. Overall, I may have just a slight preference for Perianes, but the sound and the clarity of the Pleyel gives the music such a different character that it would really be a pity not to own both if you like this music.

My rating: 5 stars (Perianes), 4 stars (Brautigam)

Both Harmonia Mundi and BIS are known for paying attention to the recording quality, and both albums are no exception.

You can download them here (Perianes) and here (Brautigam)

UPDATE: You can find my review of the second volume of Brautigam’s recording here

Two new recordings of the Grieg Piano Concerto 

Edvard Grieg

Edvard Grieg is one of the two (three if you count Nielsen) well known Scandinavian composers, the other one being Sibelius.

In most minds, when you ask about Grieg you’ll hear about the famous a-minor piano concerto, and obviously the Peer Gynt suite (Morning Mood has been abused in many commercials, and In the Hall of the Mountain King is well known from many occasions from a cover by The Who to being used in Disney cartoons).

The Grieg  concerto is in a way an archetype of the romantic piano concerto. It is often coupled on disc with the somehow similar a-minor concerto by Schumann, not surprisingly given that the latter inspired the former (apparently young Grieg heard Clara Schumann perform the work and was impressed).

Leif Ove Andsnes

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I’ve liked this concert for a very long time (and what is not to like about it). At some point I did some extensive research to find my preferred version, and ended up with Leif-Ove Andsnes’ version with Maris Janssons conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. I’m not sure if it is a coincidence that Andsnes is Norvegian as well, in any case, this version has all the passion and energy I’m looking for in this work.

I recently subscribed to Qobuz’ streaming service. I still like purchasing music (downloads in my case), as it seems to be the only way where the artist has a decent chance of making some money. That said, streaming is a great tool to discover new music. Whatever comes out, the moment it is published you can listen to it immediately in CD quality. So nice!

Back to topic: basically, Qobuz alerts you to all new releases, so out of interest I listened to two new versions that came out very recently: Javier Perianes with the BBC Symphony under Sakari Oramo, and Joseph Moog with the Deutsche Radiophilharmonie Saarbrücken conducted by Nicholas Milton.

Joseph Moog

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Let me start by the latter: well, not much to write home about.  Not really my cup of tea, 3 stars. Lacking exactly the energy and passion I so much love with Andsnes.

Javier Perianes

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So I didn’t expect much from the Perianes either, also given the fact that I hadn’t heard about this Spanish pianist beforehand (although I found out later he has won a number of competitions). I was very positively surprised. While not kicking Andsnes of his throne, this version is very good indeed. In the meantime, my opinion was confirmed by both Gramophone and Classica (the latter even giving it a “Choc”, their way of saying 5 stars).

I wouldn’t go just as far, but this is a very solid four star to me and well worth recommending. Perianes had made it onto my personal watch list.

UPDATE August 2015: Gramophone doesn’t agree with me on the Moog, and gives it an Editor’s Choice. My opinion stands, I purchased the Perianes and like it very much, and I continue not to be moved very much by the Moog. YMMV.

Update September 2015: A follow-up post on this topic can be found here, with more detail on the Andsnes and some other recordings.

With regards to Perianes, also check out my review of his excellent Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte here.