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Johannes Moser: my Felix Mendelssohn top five

Cellist Johannes Moser presents his favourite Mendelssohn recordings in an exclusive IDAGIO playlist – music that has accompanied him from his childhood still thrills and inspires him today. Read more…

String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, op 80

When we think of Mendelssohn, we think of writing that’s full of such positivity and genius that it can sometimes feel hard to get a connection to Mendelssohn himself – to the person and his own demons. But this String Quartet is a piece that really connects us with Mendelssohn the human being. He wrote it shortly after the death of his sister (she died very young and then he himself died a few months later) and we hear that huge emotional impact. So much of Mendelssohn’s music is shining and brilliant and, well, “nice”, but when you hear accounts of Mendelssohn’s personality, you realise he also had his dark side and he was also pretty aggressive at times. And already in those first tremolos in the very beginning of the first movement you hear what he was going through. I was first going to go with the Ebéne Quartet’s reading, which is even more punchy and striking, but I like the Emerson's recording because they come at this remarkable work from a more “classical” point of view.

Symphony No. 4 in A, op 90 "Italian"

I remember being on tour with an orchestra where we did the same programme several times. I was playing a concerto in the first half, and they did the “Italian” in the second half. I remember staying to hear every performance. I love the beginning, almost like race horses running out of the gates, and the piece captures that Italian spirit so well. It’s one of those pieces that keeps you on the edge of your seat; you’re so engaged all the time. I feel what he started with ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ has its logical consequence with the “Italian” Symphony: that lightness and that exuberant positivity. I really love Claudio Abbado’s recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, which is one that really accompanied me for a long time.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Incidental Music, op 61

It’s fascinating to think that Mendelssohn started with the overture as a very young man and then finished the incidental music several years later, and by that time the play had been accompanying him for such a long time. Its theme, with all this craziness and all the flurries, is actually perfectly suited to Mendelssohn’s writing. Both my parents performed this music – my father as an orchestral musician with the Bayerische Rundfunk and my mother as a singer – so whenever I hear these pieces it brings me back to my childhood. It strikes an inner chord, like a music version of Proust’s Madeleine. I love this recording, it has such clarity and flow, and I’m just in awe of how an ensemble of the size of the LSO can do this with such lightness.

Cello Sonata No. 2 in D, op 58

I won the Mendelssohn Competition in Germany playing the Second Sonata, and I would say that this recording by Steven Isserlis and Melvyn Tan started out as my point of reference from which I started taking my own ideas and my own route to the piece. This was the first time, too, that I heard these sonatas being played with a fortepiano; suddenly all those repeated chords in the piano didn’t sound like machine gun fire; suddenly there was that same champagne-like lightness that you get from pieces like ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and the “Italian” Symphony. It was a real eye-opener for me, and I’m actually now on the brink of going into the studio to record the complete Mendelssohn myself – also with fortepiano,.

Songs without Words, op 19b no 1

The title of Mendelssohn’s ‘Songs Without Words’ is almost misleading. Yes, of course there are no literal words in these songs, but listening to this music I always hear the poetry of Heine, Goethe or Schiller just lurking around the corner. For me, there’s a musical grammar to this music that is simply unthinkable without having that German poetry in the back of your mind. I particularly love Murray Perahia’s playing here. The way he balances the main voice against his own accompaniment is amazing: he lets the lines rise and fall just as a singer would do.

“Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt” (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage), Overture, op 27

For my bonus choice: “Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt”, although I don’t really have much more to say about this other than that I just love the piece! On Abbado’s recording, though, the beginning is especially serene and still, and it perfectly captures the images that come to mind with the title: evoking the endless ocean in the way we lose the sense of time and the way the bar lines melt away.

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