Empathetic arrangements and warm musicianship make this a must-hear

Michael Barenboim: Mendelssohn


The Strad Issue: April 2024

Description: Empathetic arrangements and warm musicianship make this a must-hear

Musicians: Michael Barenboim (violin) Natalia Pegarkova-Barenboim (piano)

Works: Mendelssohn: Songs without Words (arr. David)

Catalogue number: LINN CKD696

These arrangements may be counted almost as authentic as the piano originals. Ferdinand David was not merely the intended soloist for Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto: he effectively wrote the first-movement cadenza and gave the overall shape of the part its unimprovable polish. ‘His tone is most pure,’ remarked an English reviewer of David in 1839, ‘his cantabile expressive, his intonation perfect and his bowing such as all English players should endeavour to imitate.’

The same could justly be said of Michael Barenboim. His portamento is stylistically apt, not self-consciously antique but intrinsically vocal. His tempos take account of the intimately domestic context for which Mendelssohn was writing, neither pushing Presto movements to virtuosic extremes nor burdening Andantes with anachronistic pathos. The core of his tone is warmed with a youthfully light vibrato, and (crucially) his phrasing lifts the up-beat without an ugly accent in sight. The pianist is inevitably allotted an unrewardingly subsidiary role, weighted towards the left hand, but Natalia Pegarkova-Barenboim makes the best of it with a properly equal place in front of the microphone.

The booklet note does not elaborate on whether David arranged all of the Songs without Words – it seems unlikely – but this selection cherry-picks from all seven books, in a chronological arrangement that gives the lie to the old myth that Mendelssohn never developed. The open-hearted exuberance of op.19 no.2 belongs to the world of the Octet just as surely as the Andante sostenuto op.85 no.3 shares the distilled inner feeling of the slow movements in the Sixth Quartet and Second Symphony. Programming, performance, engineering: every facet of this album is a delight.