Karr-Yang Duo: Felix Mendelssohn: Sonatas from Childhood, Adolescence, and Adulthood

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Fresh interpretation and technical brilliance imbue “Mendelssohn: Sonatas from Childhood, Adolescence, and Adulthood,” the first period instrument recording of this repertoire. This debut recording by the New York City based Karr-Yang Duo features three relatively unknown Mendelssohn Piano and Violin Sonatas, including the duo's own version  of the unfinished 1838 F major sonata, and the stunning albeit incomplete Fragment in D.

Audio

# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 67:36
01Sonata Fragment in D (1825): Adagio–Allegro molto
Sonata Fragment in D (1825): Adagio–Allegro molto
7:20

Sonata No. 1 in F Major (1820)

02I. Allegro
I. Allegro
6:23
03II. Andante
II. Andante
6:02
04III. Presto
III. Presto
4:13

Sonata No. 2 in F Minor (1823)

05I. Adagio - Allegro moderato
I. Adagio - Allegro moderato
8:45
06II. Poco Adagio
II. Poco Adagio
6:05
07III. Allegro agitato
III. Allegro agitato
4:43

Sonata No. 3 in F Major (1838)

08I. Allegro vivace
I. Allegro vivace
12:11
09II. Adagio
II. Adagio
5:49
10III. Assai vivace
III. Assai vivace
6:05

Felix Mendelssohn’s stunning E minor violin concerto, written towards the end of his life, is familiar fare to all frequent concert-goers. This masterpiece, along with his well-known quartets and symphonies, reflects a lifelong engagement with the violin and with several personally important and widely influential violinists. Perhaps the closest and most fruitful of these relationships was with his dear friend and close collaborator Ferdinand David, who was born a year later than Felix in the same house, and was one of the few loved ones surrounding him when he passed away at a tragically early age. They even shared similar cultural backgrounds: both were born Jewish and converted to Christianity.

Despite such close ties to the violin and its exponents, Mendelssohn’s sonatas have mostly fallen out of favor, likely because they present singular challenges for performers. Far from rendering these sonatas without appeal for performance and study, however, we feel these challenges enhance their value as musical works while contributing to an understanding of Mendelssohn as composer and artist.

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The first, composed when Felix was a mere 11 years old, appears in an early notebook intermingled with counterpoint, figured bass, and chorale exercises. These elements―along with study of the works of Bach, Mozart, and Haydn―comprised a substantial portion of the rigorous classical training he received from his tutor Carl Friedrich Zelter. Felix’s diligence and, by some standards, the conservatism of his style is reflected in the Mozartean sparseness and clever intermingling of the voices in the first movement; a somber theme and variations in the second; and the Haydn-esque scampering in the third, reminiscent of works such as the “Lark” quartet. The sonata also reveals the seeds of an inspired composer, and is a delightful little gem in its own right.

For the complete program notes, please purchase the album.

Producer: Jesse Lewis
Engineers: Tom Caulfield and Jesse Lewis
Piano Technician: Ed Swenson
Editing Assistant: Shauna Barravecchio
Mastering Engineer: Kyle Pyke
Recorded at Drew University, Madison, NJ, June 2015
Recorded in DSD256 (11.2MHz) with Schoeps and DPA microphones
Conrad Graf concert piano circa 1827, opus 1389, courtesy of Ed Swenson
Design & Typography: Marc Wolf (marcjwolf.com)
Cover: Elbschiff im Frühnebel by Caspar David Friedrich
Booklet Cover: Pen and Ink drawing by Felix Mendelssohn. Landscape of the cliffs at Amalfi. Signature on mounting paper. 15x21cm., ink. Used by permission from the Moldenhauer Archives at the Library of Congress.
Fragment in D (1825), Autograph score: Staatsbibliothek Zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Mendelssohn Archive.
Karr-Yang Duo, inside: Tatiana Daubek Photography
Special Thanks: Ellis Hilton, Robert Mealy, Max Zeugner

Karr-Yang Duo

A native of Boston, Massachusetts, violinist Abigail Karr received Bachelor and Master of Music degrees at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, studying violin with the late Sergiu Luca. She appears with many ensembles on modern and historical violin, including the Handel & Haydn Society of Boston (as occasional principal player and soloist) and the Trinity Baroque Orchestra of Manhattan. An active chamber musician, noted for the “focused direction” she brings to performances, she is the founder and director of Gretchen’s Muse, a chamber ensemble dedicated to bringing the music of the 18th century to life through exciting, historically-informed performances; the group was recently praised for its “near-telepathic synchronicity” and the “palpable collective chemistry between such individually accomplished bow-wielders.” Abigail holds a degree in historical performance from The Juilliard School, and currently lives in New York.

Noted for “astonishing skill and vividness” and “absolute mastery,” Yi-heng Yang is a dynamic and versatile collaborator and soloist on modern and historical keyboards. She has appeared in recital at The Boston Early Music Festival, The Frederick Collection, The Geelvinck Museum, La Grua Series, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Serenata of Santa Fe, Albuquerque Chatter, The Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music and The Friends of Mozart. Ms. Yang holds a doctorate in piano performance from The Juilliard School, where she is on the faculty of the Evening Division. She also studied the fortepiano with Stanley Hoogland at the Amsterdam Conservatory, where she graduated summa cum laude.


Reviews

Harmonia Early Music

Most classical music fans will be familiar with Mendelssohn’s famous e minor violin concerto, his celebrated octet or the often played Hebrides Overture, or his oratorio, Elijah. But Mendelssohn’s violin sonatas somehow inhabit a far more remote corner of the composer’s legacy. Although he wrote three violin sonatas, Mendelssohn only ever published his second one, written in 1823 when he was just 14 years old. Mendelssohn wrote his first sonata in 1820 at the age of 11; he was 29 when he wrote his last one.

There have already been a few recordings of the three Mendelssohn sonatas to date, but a new CD from the Karr-Yang Duo offers a special look into this composer’s sound world with their historically informed performance of the pieces using 19th century period instruments. For this recording, fortepianist Yi-heng Yang plays an original Graf piano circa 1827, an instrument from a famous Viennese builder whose pianos Mendelssohn is known to have played.

Childhood

Mendelssohn’s first sonata is a piece that the young Mendelssohn wrote during his compositional studies with Carl Friedrich Zelter. In fact, the manuscript of the sonata can be found mixed in with Mendelssohn’s homework among his assignments in counterpoint, chorale studies, and figured bass exercises. This charming and youthful early sonata is, unsurprisingly, the most conservative of Mendelssohn’s three. It reflects a classical language belonging more to the idioms Mozart or Haydn, than the romanticism for which Mendelssohn came to be known.

Adolescence

Mendelssohn’s second sonata written three years later at the age of 14, shows a completely different side of the composer. The striking dark and introspective opening solo violin recitative sets up an angsty f minor piece whose sturm und drang only briefly lets light in through its intensity.

Of the three, this second sonata in f minor is the only violin sonata that Mendelssohn published during his lifetime. When he was 16, Mendelssohn started another violin sonata ,which, eventually joined the ranks of a number of other pieces that Mendelssohn started but never finished. On their recording, the Karr-Yang duo has also included a significant 6 minute fragment as a sort of link to Mendelssohn’s mature style.

Adulthood

Mendelssohn turned his attention away from the violin sonata for a number of years, not returning to the genre until 1838 when the now 29 year old Felix Mendelssohn was on a high arc in his career. He had by this time, landed a job as the music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus, where he was at the helm of a fabulous orchestra, and through which he organized a popular series of chamber music concerts. It is very possible that Mendelssohn composed his F major violin sonata for this chamber music series with the plan that his good friend and concertmaster of the Gewandhaus orchestra, Ferdinand David would play it. But Mendelssohn’s infamous perfectionism took hold. Unable to settle on a definitive version of the sonata, Mendelssohn never heard it performed during his lifetime. It wasn’t until the 1950’s when violinist Yehudi Menuhin reconstructed bits of Mendelssohn’s manuscripts that the F major sonata saw new light.

When the Karr-Yang Duo decided to record this piece, they too returned to Mendelssohn’s manuscript to make their own reconstructions. They were greeted with what they describe as anutter disarray of scribbles, incomplete bars, cross-outs, and inserts that they eventually assembled in to a cohesive piece of music.”

Karr-Yang Duo Period Performance

The Karr Yang Duo’s performance of Mendelssohn sonatas comes off with intention and ease. Placed side by side with other Mendelssohn recordings using modern instruments, the period performance might sound less robust to some ears, but what is gained in its stead is a well-balanced and conversational sound, marked by a wonderful clarity of articulation, and a wide pallet of dynamic possibilities.

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