Adam Chamber Music Festival, Nelson

Mendelssohn and More I: Music by Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, and Schumann

Prazhak Quartet, Piers Lane (piano), Rolf Gjelsten (cello), Jenny Wollerman (soprano)

Nelson School of Music, Sunday 1 February

The first phase of the mini-Mendelssohn festival featured the Prazak Quartet, Piers Lane and other musicians. Cellist Rolf Gjelsten was the first of the others, playing Mendelssohn’s Cello Sonata, Op 38, with Piers Lane; it’s a wonderful, ripe, joyous work of fearful difficulty. Mendelssohn is in his characteristic scherzo vein right from start; the score, filled with melody, drives both players through high-speed, finger-breaking gymnastics. The quintessential Romantic, even with its Bachian echoes, appears in the Adagio where the players met the sonata’s demands, not exactly with ease, but leaving both audience and themselves breathless.

Piers then played four Songs Without Words, perhaps to recover his composure, with sparkle and affection. The concert was as much about Mendelssohn’s musical milieu as about him, and we next heard Jenny Wollerman singing three songs each by Felix and his sister Fanny. Her songs were charming enough, as sung with simple clarity by Wollerman, but they lacked the assurance and polished melodic and expressive genius of her brother.

They included Frage, Die Liebende schreibt and ended with the very fine Sukeika, the ecstatic quality of which Wollerman expressed with conviction. The String Quartet, Op 12, was played by the Prazak Quartet. It’s the mark of the most gifted players that they can infuse a work that is not in the ‘great’ class with a depth of feeling and sense of the inevitable that seems to raise it almost to the level of Mozart and Beethoven whose influence in this work is overt. That they did from its very opening phrases: glorious ensemble, each instrument lending its own colour and exact weight to the balance of the whole.

Schumann’s most inspired chamber work, the Piano Quintet, Op 44, had its connection with Mendelssohn through his playing the piano part at its premiere, when Clara, who would have played it, was pregnant. This too was performed by the Prazak Quartet with Piers Lane and, to my prejudiced ears, demonstrated Schumann’s superior creative gifts, through the strength and individuality of melody, driven by a rare musical impulse that was also guided by sure feeling for shape and all the elements that hold an extended structure together.

This performance left me with the confirmation that its finale is simply one of the most thrilling things in the chamber music repertoire.

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