A Fresh Take on Mendelssohn's Complex Cello & Piano Works

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Cellist Gary Hoffman affords these cherished pieces high respect

MENDELSSOHN: THE MUSIC FOR VIOLONCELLO AND PIANO. Gary Hoffman, cello; David Selig, piano. (La Dolce I Vita/Harmonia Mundi)

In laying down Felix Mendelssohn's immensely important body of cello and piano music, cellist Gary Hoffman and pianist David Selig give the composer a broad respect and seriousness of thought more normally associated with Beethoven and Brahms. On this collection - featuring Sonata No.2 for cello and piano in D major, Op. 58; Variations concertantes, Op. 17; Albumblatt: Songs without words for cello and piano in D major, Op. 109; Sonata No.l for cello and piano in B-flat, Op. 45 - the playing does not seek to dazzle, nor even to shine. Instead, Hoffman and Selig seem to be discovering the delights of the musical dialogue as if they were the composer and dedicatees playing the music for the first times.

Hoffman's approach is idiosyncratic in its reliance on some deep inner pulse that seems to regulate every bar, virtually across the entire hour of music. He is not interested, more than he has to be, in visceral thrills, although he clearly can do that, too. Like a still photographer, he prefers to introduce the music first in contrasting shades, dark and light (the way he explores the complex subtle contrasts in Opus 58's second and third movements alone are worth the price of admission), and then transform them by breathing the colors of his wonderful instrument softly into them. …