Released on October 9, 2020, Dutch cellist Viola da Hoog's new disc of Mendelssohn's two Cello Sonatas (plus a World Premiere on period instruments!) with Armenian pianist Mikayel Belyan comes across like a restoration of a fine painting. Belyan plays on an 1847 Érard piano, which has a tremendous, light sound; de Hoog a Guadagnini cello from around 1750.
This YouTube video acts as a fine introduction to the project. In it, de Hoog pinpoints what attracts her so much to these pieces by Mendelssohn: its unique combination of melancholy and optimism.
The lightness available to the players in the finale of the Cello Sonata, Op. 58 (1839) is remarkable; as is a contrasting intensity. Another dualism! Perhaps that's the key to the success of these interpretations: the players don't see Mendelssohn as mono-dimentional. I remember interviewing the Italian pianist Roberto Prosseda once about his Decca recording of Mendelssohn's Lieder ohne Worte ("Songs without Words") and his piont was just that: Mendelssohn has so much unacknowledged depth. Here's that finale:
The First Cello Sonata, Op. 45 (1843) is heard last on the disc. If you're looking for a bit of respite from the World's woes, look no further than the eloquent, flowing Andante of this Sonata:
There's also Mendelssohn's own arrangement (with the help of Ignaz Moscheles) of his Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 for flute, cello and piano in which the pair are joined by Dutch flautist Marten Root. All three pieces on the disc date from around 1840. Let's hear the original so you can contrast with the excerpts form the arrangement in the promotional video. I've chosen a performance from London's Wigmore Hall in July 2018 to remind us ofthe joys of live concerts!. The performance by the ATOS Trio is emotionally generous and completely involving (it also includes an encore, the sprightly finale of Haydn's Piano Trio in A, Hob.XV:18):
... and here's the first movement in the arrangement for flute, cello and piano on the present release:
The use of flute seems to bring an extra lightness to the work; it also lifts the beautiful Andante con molto tranquillo:
de Hoog's previous release on the Vivat label was Bach's Solo Cello Suites: and it offers some of those works' finest interpretations. If you wanted an historically aware performance to supplement a more full-bodied reading, de Hoog offers a valuable alternative; but in the process, you might find she persuades you that her readings stand perfectly well on their own two feet.
Before we get to that, though, let's have something in the manner of an encore-interlude: Roberto Prosseda in Mendelssohn's Venetian Gondola Song, the sixth from the Op. 19 set of Songs without Words:
OK, and so to Bach.
Viola da Hoog offers haunting performances of Bach's Cello Suites. Here she is, introducing the recording and talking about her relationship to Bach:
The Prelude to the First is one of the most famous movements. Listen to how she teases the line:
And, despite the restrained dynamic, listen to how the Courante from the same Suite teems with life:
de Hoog plays on a five-string cello from Bohemia, c. 1760, for the sixth and final Suite. Hearing the range, the speed and the gossamer-light playing of the Prelude is a joy in itself, but it's only fitting we round off with the Gugue, traditionally, as here, the final movement in a Baroque Suite:
At the time of writing, the Mendelssohn is offered at a reduced price on Amazon at the link below.