Sunday afternoon Emmanuel Music kicked off Year I of its Mendelssohn/Wolf Chamber Series in the Parish Hall. The series continues with two more concerts this season and encompass all 53 of Wolf’s Mörike Lieder. From what I heard, this series will draw crowds.
In his introduction, Ryan Turner discussed this pairing. He enumerated some points of biographical comparison, concluding that the music of both Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847) and Hugo Wolf (1860 – 1903) is under-rated and under-played. I was taken aback by this statement and still ponder what he must have been thinking. Wolf’s songs and Mendelssohn’s chamber music and oratorios are nearly ubiquitous. I also didn’t learn why Turner paired these composers, nor any rationale for the absence of Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte, or for that matter, Mendelssohn’s Lieder mit Worte on the first two sessions of this three-year survey. But I was glad to learn subsequently that in due time all of the chamber-vocal music of Mendelssohn will be forthcoming.
Certainly both composers were drawn to song and this concert showcased their melodic gifts. The format alternated on this Sunday between Wolf’s Mörike Lieder and chamber (string) works by Mendelssohn; this concert featured Pamela Dellal, mezzo-soprano, and Ryan Turner, tenor, with Brett Hodgdon, piano, for the Wolf. Interspersed with these sets were Mendelssohn’s Variations Concertantes in D for cello and piano (Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello; Ya-Fei Chuang, piano) and his Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 1 (Danielle Maddon, violin, and Mark Berger, viola, joining them to round out the foursome).
Dellal gave sensitive, expressive, and intimate renderings of these songs, with crisp enunciation. Her performance brought the German texts to palpable life, from the aching sadness of “Seufzer” to the comedy of “Elfenlied.” In some ways the defining moment of this performance was “Begegnung,” with its powerful story-telling. I should also mention “Ein Stündlein wohl vor Tag,” which bears a strong musical resemblance to the songs of Richard Strauss and could profitably be paired on some future recital.
For his part, Turner brought drama to his songs as in the religious mysticism of “Schlafendes Jesuskind” or the concluding “Storchenbotschaft.” Throughout, Hodgdon gave a stellar account of the piano parts, being a truly sensitive collaborator and matching the phrasing, coloring, and emotion of the singers; he helped take these interpretations to a lofty height and I commend him for that—as must, I am sure, the singers.
Mendelssohn’s Variations Concertantes were written for his brother, a skilled amateur cellist and is charming music. Popper-Keizer opened this piece in a slower tempo and more reserved vein than many other performances I have heard. Overall I found the cello line somewhat less concertante and more domestic. Chuang brought a kaleidoscope of sound to the keyboard.
Indeed, that continued in the Mendelssohn Piano Quartet in C Minor. In this tight, highly cohesive ensemble performance, we heard a prismatic play from the piano. The Allegro vivace opener announced a good theme then worked it through in sonata-allegro form to great effect. The Adagio was full of pathos, while the Scherzo: Presto was joyous, although not yet suffused with the ebullience we hear so often in his later playful movements. The concluding Allegro moderato was a spirited romp.
The next installment of this series can be heard on November 16th at 4pm, with a different line-up in more of Wolf’s Mörike Lieder, alongside Mendelssohn’s Violin Sonata in F Minor, Op. 4 and String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 13.