Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 30, 2021

REVIEW: Felix, Fanny, and Frederic, Close Encounters With Music

Close Encounters With Music, Great Barrington, MA
April 25, 2021
by Michael J. Moran

Yehuda Hanani
Close Encounters With Music continues to present virtual chamber music concerts from the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington during the Covid pandemic. Their latest program, recorded on the Mahaiwe stage before a small live audience, featured Romanian-born violinist Irina Muresanu, Boston-based pianist Max Levinson, and CEWM Artistic Director and cellist Yehuda Hanani. It is available on the CEWM web site.

The concert’s full title was “Felix, Fanny, and Frederic: Chopin and the Mendelssohns.” In his typically witty and cogent introductory remarks, Hanani made clear that while Felix and Frederic knew and respected each other professionally, their musical and personal temperaments were worlds apart: Felix Mendelssohn was gregarious and comfortable in a wide range of public roles, while the crowd-averse Frederic Chopin channeled all his passion into his music. 

No better illustration of this point could be offered than the fiery performance by Levinson of Chopin’s 1840 second piano sonata that opened the program. The “Grave – Doppio movimento” first movement was alternately warm and turbulent, while the following “Scherzo” offset a tempestuous main theme with a sensuous trio interlude. The famous “Funeral March” was somber and stark, after which the astonishing minute-long “Presto” finale flashed by in a chromatic blur. Hanani then joined Levinson in a charming account of the tender “Largo” movement from Chopin’s sonata for cello and piano.  

Fanny Mendelssohn received “the same musical education and gifts” as her four-years-younger brother, Hanani noted, but “proper roles” for women of her time and class limited her potential as a composer and performer to a small circle of family and friends.  Based on the lovely “Adagio” for violin and piano which Muresanu played with silken tone and Levinson with delicate finesse, Hanani might consider exploring more of the 450 pieces which Fanny wrote.

The full trio closed the program with a powerfully dramatic rendition of Felix’s first piano trio. The opening “Molto allegro ed agitato” was commanding, followed by a ravishing “Andante con moto tranquillo,” a light-as-a-feather “Scherzo,” and a muscular, passionate “Finale,” overflowing with what Hanani called Mendelssohn’s “uplifting optimism and unwavering hope.” Sound and video quality were straightforward, conveying a good sense of the hall.