October 14, 2019. It’s all in the family—a phrase that has rung true many, many times in classical music, past and present. Looking back to the 18th century, the extended Bach family and the Haydn brothers, Joseph and Michael, have long been evidence of music as a family affair.
These days, we have the brother and sister sets Orli and Gil Shaham and Alisa and Joshua Weilerstein, as well as brothers Anthony and Demarre McGill and the seven (yes, seven!) Kanneh-Mason siblings, to name just a few. In between all that, during the 19th century, are the Mendelssohns.
In this week’s Classical Album of the Week, Canadian-German cellist Johannes Moser and Scottish pianist Alasdair Beatson give us a glimpse of the weekly musical salons typical of the Mendelssohn family household in 19th-century Berlin.
Recorded on an Érard grand piano from 1837, the type the Mendelssohns owned and used day-to-day, this album offers one of the more authentic performances of these pieces available on record.
Listen to Johannes Moser talk about the making of this album, and how the use the 1837 Érard piano “changed everything" for him and Beatson.
The set of works here for cello and piano are precisely those that would have brought the Mendelssohn siblings together every Sundays for these occasions, with Felix playing piano and composing, his brother Paul playing cello, and their older sister Fanny Hensel wearing numerous hats — that of pianist, composer, hostess, event coordinator and sometimes conductor.
In being a “driving force” for these musical-cum-society gatherings, which began in 1831 when she was 26 years of age, Fanny was actually reviving an old tradition of salons started by her aunts a generation earlier.
Sadly, both Fanny and her brother Felix suffered strokes early in life and passed away far too young, ages 41 and 38 respectively. We can only wonder what late Romantic influences might have sparked them and how this musical family would have matured in the latter half of the 19th century.
Fortunately, from Felix and Fanny, we do have a set of beautifully conceived chamber works, as demonstrated so well by Moser in this album, affording the cello the perfect opportunity to show off the lyrical and dramatic tenor and baritone potential of the instrument — something cellists were only just beginning to explore during Felix’s and Fanny’s time.