Compelling performances of two remarkable siblings

Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective: Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn

The Strad Issue: September 2022

Description: Compelling performances of two remarkable siblings

Musicians: Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective

Works: Fanny Mendelssohn: Piano Trio op.11; Piano Quartet. Felix Mendelssohn: Piano Sextet op.110

Catalogue number: Chandos CHAN 20256

Fanny Mendelssohn’s D minor Piano Trio plunges the listener straight into harmonic turmoil and swirling piano figuration in a manner not dissimilar to the trios in the same key by her brother and his friend Robert Schumann. A pair of slower central movements – an Andante espressivo and a brief Lied – demonstrate her individual way with melody and piquant harmony, while the finale is a piano-led virtuoso romp to the finish. It would be a remarkable piece even if her name hadn’t been Mendelssohn (and if such creative endeavours from women hadn’t been frowned upon at the time). It was the last of her works to be performed in her lifetime, little over a month before her death at the age of 42.

On the other hand, the lighter-hearted piano quartet is a student piece, composed when Fanny was 17, an inexperience betrayed by slightly foursquare phrasing and some fleeting technical awkwardness. Nevertheless, she was clearly a pianist of formidable ability and a composer of notable single-mindedness. The Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective makes no concessions in its wholly committed advocacy of both works. In the conducive surroundings of Potton Hall in Suffolk, pianist Tom Poster’s fingers fly thrillingly but never at the risk of obscuring his string colleagues.

Felix’s Sextet for piano and strings is also a teenage work, composed when he was 15. Already his individual voice is evident, for all that Mozart is a clear guiding spirit at moments such as the first movement’s second subject; additionally, for all the similarities of scoring, the Sextet never occupies the same sound world as Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet. The Kaleidoscope players clearly have a whale of a time and keep matters admirably light – no mean feat for a work scored for only one violin with a pair of violas, cello, bass and piano. Delicious.