Masterclass: Johannes Moser on Mendelssohn’s Cello Sonata no.2

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Johannes Moser takes a look at tempo, dynamics and the relationship between instruments in the exciting and energetic first movement of the D major op.58 Sonata

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Mendelssohn wrote this piece in 1842–3 for Count Mateusz Wielhorski, a skilled amateur cellist who played it on a Stradivari cello with a fascinating lineage: it was subsequently owned by Karl Davidov, and then Jacqueline du Pré, who recorded her legendary Elgar Concerto on it. It is now in the hands of Yo-Yo Ma. I have had quite a journey with this sonata: I first worked on it for the Mendelssohn Competition in 2000, and later played it as part of my first, non-commercial recording project, which was a big adventure for me. In 2012, the Honens International Piano Competition in Calgary, Canada, hired me to play it with each of the 20 contestants in the chamber music round, over 4 or 5 days. I had to make 20 copies of the piece and mark them differently for each contestant, to work on each individual’s interpretation! 

For me, this first movement is tied in spirit to Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream  and ‘Italian’ Symphony, with all its sextuplet drive. It is composed in such a way that if we play with a certain lightness, with a good chamber music partner, it just lifts off. As your interpretation takes shape, you might decide to listen to what your pianist is doing and adjust accordingly, or you might choose to celebrate your differences. Whatever you do, it is important to understand that with every choice you make, you may influence each other as well. If you do a large crescendo, for example, the chances are that they are going to come with you, so be careful what you initiate.

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