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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, July 2010

The fine mediator between Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel and the listener is Heather Schmidt, who plays with genuine verve and an animated refinement, catching the seeming paradoxes embedded in some of the music with great assurance. She’s been backed up by some well calibrated engineering as well.

James A. Altena
Fanfare, July 2010

Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel composed some 500 works, mostly piano miniatures and songs. She wrote one orchestral overture, a few larger-scale choral works, and a handful of chamber compositions, her masterpiece being the lovely Piano Trio in D Minor, op. 11, which deserves to be a repertoire staple. Most of her output remains unpublished—her op. 1 appeared in print only in 1846, just a year before her untimely death—which, on the evidence presented here, is a great shame. True, her works are not on the same compositional plane as those of her renowned brother Felix, being rather foursquare in formal design; but then the social circumstances of her time did not allow her to cultivate her muse to the same degree. For her, music had to remain an avocation, subordinated to what her father wrote to her in 1828, a year before her marriage: “your real calling, the only calling of a young woman—I mean the state of a housewife.”

This disc presents works falling into two distinct periods. The juvenile pieces from 1823–24 are the C-Minor Sonata, Sonata o Capriccio, Allegro molto agitato, and Schluss; the remainder, from her maturity, were composed between 1838 and 1846. Stylistically, they resemble those of her sibling so closely that he even published a few of her pieces under his name. For example, the Allegro molto in C Minor, the Allegro molto agitato in D Minor, and the finale of the C-Minor Sonata all immediately recall the volatile opening Allegro of Felix’s Piano Concerto No. 1. That said, she was no mere imitator; these are solidly crafted compositions with their own voice, particularly in their gift of winning melody. In general, Fanny uses a longer, more continuously flowing melodic line, and is more overtly emotional, more given to passionate outburst, more inclined to explore introspection and melancholy. The weaknesses are overly regular metrical phrasing, over-reliance on alternating runs of triplets and of eighth (or 16th) notes for contrast, and unadventurous harmonic progressions. Although the turbulent G-Minor Sonata is the major work here, the Adagio and the Andante con moto, both in E?, deserve special mention as particularly lovely brief essays.

This is the only available recording of the C-Minor Sonata and some (not all) of the shorter pieces…Heather Schmidt is a thoroughly accomplished pianist, who plays with lovely tone, fluent technique (an absolutely pearling legato), and expressive insight and sensitivity…this music and this performance…both deserve to reach a much wider audience. The recorded sound is clear, warm, but not too resonant. Recommended to all lovers of early-Romantic piano repertoire.

Scott Noriega
Fanfare, July 2010

Heather Schmidt, a Canadian pianist and graduate of both Juilliard and Indiana University, chooses a broad array of pieces, both large and small, offering a nice overview of the works scattered throughout Mendelssohn-Hensel’s entire compositional life—the earliest from 1823, the latest 1846. From the very beginning of the disc we are offered a glimpse of a most passionate side of this composer. The emphatic opening and swirls of arpeggios that begin the C-Minor Allegro molto call us to attention. Schmidt captures the mood wonderfully with fully capable crystalline textures. She handles the tumultuous opening of the G-Minor Sonata well, never treating this material as lightweight, though I find her especially persuasive in her tempestuous performance of the D-Minor Allegro molto agitato. This may be the best performance on the entire disc: Not only does it allow Schmidt to show off her abilities with its daring and boldly difficult octave passages—the composer herself commented on this quality—but it shows off Mendelssohn-Hensel’s ability in composing music of grand ardor, no small feat for a composer who was only 18 when she wrote it! The performances of the sonatas are best in the faster movements, and the lyrical pieces, such as the E?-Major Adagio and E-Major Andante, are a bit straightforward for my taste. They suffer from a quality of sounding more like filler than first choice material—something I do not think the pianist had in mind when choosing the pieces for this very fine program.

I find Schmidt a good advocate for this much-neglected music. Though Mendelssohn-Hensel can be looked upon as being especially adept at using a traditional harmonic language and formal structures, much of this music shows an extremely creative mind at work. Schmidt shows that she is passionate about this music, and that there is, indeed, much to be passionate about. This is a fine introduction to this repertoire, and one can hope that it will be the first in a series devoted to this much-neglected and fascinating composer. If you like Felix Mendelssohn’s music, then give this “other Mendelssohn” a try!

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, June 2010

Although today we know Fanny Mendelssohn primarily because she was the sister of the legendary composer Felix, the digital era in recordings has prompted eager musicians to supply us with a few bits and pieces from Fanny’s own considerable stock of excellent compositions…This new Naxos Digital release, performed by Heather Schmidt…adds world premiere recordings of several works and serves admirably as an introduction to Fanny Mendelssohn’s piano music—or, indeed, to her style as a whole. Newcomers to this composer will do well to start here, and those already familiar with her wonderfully poetic music will appreciate the new entry as well.

Fanny Mendelssohn’s piano works are every bit as worthy as the piano music of brother Felix, and if you enjoy the works of Robert (or Clara) Schumann and perhaps even Schubert and Chopin, you will find this album a delightful surprise. Fanny Mendelssohn’s music is very well-crafted, melodically appealing, and possessed of remarkable self-confidence. There are salon miniatures here which are often very tender in mood—such as the beautiful Lied in E flat, or the evocative two-minute “Schluss” written when the composer was just eighteen years old—and there are also two formal sonatas and several shorter works which are quite technically demanding. If the attempts at a more serious vein seem less authentic than the quieter, more heartfelt moments, the results are always endearing.

For the most part, the mood is one akin to the musical poetry we find in Felix’s Songs Without Words. Indeed, the only obvious advantage Felix had over his sister here is in giving his music names: Fanny’s “Andante con Moto in E major” has all the lyricism and beauty of the Songs Without Words, but the title is not nearly as appealing. Even the two sonatas are prone to poetic tune-spinning; if the opening movement of the G minor is a bit too dramatic for its own good, the finale is an extraordinary delight, and I imagine it is a joy to play as well.

The music here ranges from the composer’s teenage years—the final three tracks were written before she turned twenty—to the year before her untimely death at the age of forty-one. On my first listen, however, I ignored the booklet notes and simply played the album straight through. I doubt many listeners will be able to distinguish the work of a teenager from that of a mature adult with decades of experience; Fanny Mendelssohn, like her more famous brother, seems to have been born with not just an expressive gift but the confidence and maturity to share it fully from a very early age. It is a pity that she was never able to reach the public fame of her brother—but at least today we can be glad to have recordings like this…Fanny Mendelssohn aficionados, then, if there are that many, should not hesitate in picking up this new album…these are very good performances indeed, technically assured in the more challenging works and marvellously poetic everywhere. Schmidt is as close to an ideal interpreter of Fanny Mendelssohn that we are likely to get, and the music itself is so wonderful that this disc recommends itself. Anyone interested in the musical poetry of brother Felix’s Songs Without Words, and any listener with a fondness for the intimacy of early romantic piano music, should investigate this recording without hesitation.

James Manheim, June 2010

Since the rediscovery of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel, sister of Felix, has begun, there have been several recordings devoted to her piano music, both compared with that of her brother and, as here, flying solo. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of hearing it without reference to Felix Mendelssohn’s music is that some of the music, such as the Allegro molto agitato in D minor heard here (track 14), may well exceed anything Felix wrote in terms of sheer virtuosity. Fanny must have been an extraordinary pianist to have made her way through the octaves in this work at age 18 in anything like a satisfactory fashion, and this album as a whole is sufficient to touch off a fresh round of irritation that her music was partially suppressed by pressure from most of the men in her life (her husband, court painter Wilhelm Hensel, fortunately excepted) to knock off the music and get to getting barefoot and pregnant. Canadian-American pianist Heather Schmidt produces exceptionally well-wrought versions of the pianistic showpieces, which were influenced less by her brother than by the likes of Friedrich Kalkbrenner, and she has a quiet, understated style that’s very effective in the various pieces here that correspond to Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words. In the two piano sonatas, each of which has surprising turns in its sonata forms that owe little to Felix, it is possible to imagine more passionate performances, especially in the Piano Sonata in G minor, and especially there in the quite profound Adagio (track 9). But this will be a good release for libraries to have on hand, given the rising interest in including music by women in general music courses, and it makes a reasonable place to start for anyone interested in the composer.

ABC Classic FM, May 2010

What Schmidt’s outstanding playing on this CD shows is that Fanny’s music was at the very least finely honed in “salon” mode, and at most was comparable to Felix’s

The Classical Music Guide Forums, April 2010

The recording quality is really lush, eminently appealing and natural sounding…I did not hear one that had this beautifully even and gorgeously resonant quality. The bass of the instrument is reminiscent of typical German-made instruments making me wonder if the instrument used is a Hamburg Steinway. If all pianists could have “tools” of their trade as superb as this “tool” (i.e., piano), good pianists would

The music deserves it when so lovingly played as in this recording. Highly, very highly recommended listening. In the end, I keep asking myself how it is that Canada has produced so many absolutely incredibly gifted pianists?

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, March 2010

Fanny Mendelssohn was Felix's older sister (they were born in 1805 and 1809, respectively). Having received a thorough musical education, she is credited with some 500 compositions. Lesser composers have had their entire works recorded, so it's this writer's hope that this project will continue to cover more of her works. Felix was devastated by Fanny's sudden death, and died a few months later. The artist in this recording is Canadian Wunderkind Heather Schmidt, who in addition to rendering idiomatically warm performances of these selections, is a noted composer in her own right, with six(!) piano concertos to her credit. Wow! Now here's something to look forward to., March 2010

Excellent performances of some fairly well-known music and much that is virtually unknown are offered here that, despite the distinction of the playing and the highly interesting repertoire, raise some questions that they leave unanswered. You might expect the puzzle in Heather Schmidt’s new CD of music by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel to involve the question of why so much fine music—some of it pleasant, some of it strong and genuinely interesting—is so little known. But that is not an issue, really, for Felix Mendelssohn’s older sister (1805–1947) was known to have musical talent nearly at the level of her brother’s, but was entirely shaped by her family (including, to some extent, by Felix himself) into the expected 19th-century-female role of housewife. She performed only once in public and had no chance to publish any of her works until the year before her death—an event that precipitated Felix’s own death just a few months later. What Schmidt’s outstanding playing on this CD shows is that Fanny’s music was at the very least finely honed in “salon” mode, and at most was comparable to Felix’s (he sometimes passed off a work of hers as his own)—and moved in some potentially interesting directions that Fanny never had the chance to follow far…The Sonata in G minor is a high point, and shows how far Fanny might have gone if her talent had been encouraged. It is both lyrical and dramatic, requiring strong technique as well as emotional understanding—an impressive work by any standards. Other standouts here are the intense Allegro molto in C minor, the lovely Notturno in G minor and the wistful Lied in E-flat major—but in fact, every piece that Schmidt plays has something of interest in it…It is long past time for more of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel’s approximately 500 works to be heard.

Jed Distler, March 2010

The past three decades have seen a slow but steady discovery of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel’s extensive solo piano output. Listen to this remarkable music without knowing the composer’s identity, and you might guess Fanny’s younger brother Felix, although her idiomatic keyboard mastery charts darker, Schumann-esque waters and also looks ahead to Brahms. Some of Fanny’s adventurous harmonic forays are pure César Franck, albeit 30-odd years before that composer’s heyday.

Heather Schmidt’s Mendelssohn-Hensel recital presents a well-contrasted selection of works in large and small forms. My Schumann comment applies to the swirling and intense C minor Allegro molto that opens this disc. If Brahms had rewritten a Felix Mendelssohn Song Without Words in the manner of his own late-period Klavierstücke, he’d come up with Fanny’s G minor Notturno, while the D minor Allegro molto agitato’s Bachian demeanor and gothic octaves (effortlessly executed by Schmidt, incidentally) suggest Busoni in embryonic form.

The three-movement C minor sonata oozes melodic inspiration in every bar, especially in the slow movement’s moving introspection and modulations that give Schubert a run for his money. Although Schmidt plays this movement as a true Andante con moto and with little rubato, would a slower, freer approach make a stronger expressive impact? On the other hand, she fully comprehends the four-movement G minor sonata’s inherent power and passion, and delivers more dynamically charged renditions of the Allegro molto agitato and Adagio movements than the equally fluid yet more restrained Beatrice Rauchs on BIS.

Schmidt matches Rauchs’ delicacy in the gorgeous Scherzo at nearly twice the basic tempo—a good call…All told, this is a valuable addition to the Mendelssohn-Hensel piano discography.

Mary Kunz Goldman
The Buffalo News, February 2010

The music on this disc is very promising. Some is forgettable or formulaic, but all of it is lovely, with a grace similar to what sets her brother’s music apart. A few pieces—a beautiful Adagio in E flat, for instance—are beautiful enough to enter the repertoire. Toronto pianist Schmidt makes a good case for finding out what else is out there.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2010

Naxos continue their interest in one of the most ignored composers in the Romantic era, this disc surveying Fanny Mendelssohn’s piano output. Totally overshadowed by her famous brother, Fanny had received the same musical training, but her family still expected her to accept a wife’s role, and she responded by marrying at the age of twenty-four to Wilhelm Hensel. Though she served the role as a housewife. she continued to compose building a catalogue of more than five hundred works before her untimely death at the age of forty-two. That was the year following the first work published under her name. Much was in the form of songs and piano works that would be described today as salon music, seven that fall within that classification included in the eight one-movement works on this disc. There were, however, works on a more substantial scale, the disc containing Piano Sonatas in C minor and G minor in three and four movements respectively. She adored Bach, and here there is more than a passing influence, though she did write in a personal voice. Often bold in concept and strong in melodic invention, they were written at both ends of her life, the C minor a teenage score with a vibrant finale. The G minor, completed four years before her death, was regarded among the most significant works. Here we move into the realms of Beethoven, not with the same level of inspiration but within the corresponding realms. The opening track, an Allegro molto in C minor, written shortly before she died, is a revelation. By then she had moved towards Schubert, the big powerful, turbulent and virtuoso score pointed to the onset of a great composer. The remaining short works always attract, and in these highly persuasive performances from the Canadian pianist, Heather Schmidt, they will prove an interesting acquisition.

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