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Imagination and Strength

Celebrating the Mendelssohn anniversary
at Mannes College,
reported by ANNA L FRANCO


On Sunday 15 November 2009, the Mendelssohn Salon 2009 Yearlong Festival of Mannes College, The New School for Music, held a concert at the Church of All Souls Unitarian in New York City, USA. The festival is a tribute primarily to Mendelssohn, celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of his birth, with some events in honor of Franz Josef Haydn, in memory of the two hundredth anniversary of his death. The Artistic Director is Pavlina Dokovska. This particular event was part of 'Piano Cantabile' -- a set of two recitals by the Mannes piano department featuring works by Felix Mendelssohn -- and a Musica Viva of New York event.

The concert opened with three selections from the Songs Without Words Book IV, Op 53. Elena Aksenova, a student of Vladimir Feltsman and Pavlina Dokovska, performed these pianistic gems with astonishing speed and agility. They were followed by selections from Mendelssohn's rarely performed art songs based on poetry. These included Suleika, Op 35 No 4, Nachtlied, Op 7 No 6, and Andres Maienlied, Op 8 No 8, performed with charming expression by Kristina Bachrach, soprano, and Anastasiya Popova, piano. Suleika is a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe about the wonders of the West Wind, using its wings to pass on a message to a beloved one. Nachtlied or 'Night Song' is a short poem by Josef Karl Benedikt von Eichendorff, noting the advance of nightfall. Finally, Andres Maienlied is a poem by Ludwig Heinrich Christoph Holty; also known as Hexenlied, the song refers to witches.

The concert included works by Mendelssohn's close friend, Robert Schumann, and his wife Clara. Variations in F major on the name 'Abegg', Op 1, by Robert Schumann, was performed by MinJee Lee. The theme is a simple play on musical letters, with more complex variations following. Next were selections from Soirées musicales, Op 6, by Clara Schumann, played by Haodong Wu. Live performances of Clara Schumann's works are not often heard, so it was a nice surprise to see this on the program.

Works by composers who influenced Mendelssohn were also included. The first half of the concert concluded with Beethoven's Rondo a Capriccio in G, 'Rage Over a Lost Penny' Op 129, played by In-Ju Bang at the piano. The second half featured the imposing Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ, BWV 565 by J S Bach, performed by Walter Klaus, organist, conductor and founder of Musica Viva concert series. The last piece was Beethoven's Trio for clarinet, cello, and piano, Op 11, performed by Amy Glover, clarinet, Zhou Yi, cello, and Timur Mustakimov, piano. The trio instrumentation gave the piece an uncommon flavor; the fluid woodwind sound playing against the deeper strings and brighter piano brought the concert to conclusion.

With the exception of the organ piece performed by Walter Klaus, the performances were by students at Mannes. The careful selection of composers and their pieces in this concert bestowed warm recognition on Mendelssohn, his friends, and also on those who have been an important part of his musical development. The music was performed with technical brilliance, imagination, and strength, yet they were also united based on the context of the composer's life, adding a personal and historic setting.

Copyright © 20 November 2009 Anna L Franco,
New York City, USA









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