Fri, Aug 15, 2003 - Page 19 News List

CD Reviews

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Mendelssohn: Cello Sonatas, Variations, Songs Without Words

Deutsche Grammophon 471 565-2

Mendelssohn is enjoying something of a revival. For a long time he was considered too placid and happy a figure to be the equal of the rebellious geniuses thought to be typical of the artistic temperament. But now the full range of his compositions is being re-discovered. The Latvian-born cellist Mischa Maisky is so enthusiastic that he has even adapted some of his solo piano items for cello and piano duo to increase the amount of Mendelssohn's work available to him. Now 55, and looking ever more like an Old Testament patriarch, he performs here with the young Venezuelan pianist Sergio Tiempo, 29 (who gave his first public performance at the age of three). Mendelssohn was a child prodigy too, and his music retained throughout his life a child-like innocence. This pleased the 19th century public, challenged by "difficult" artists like Liszt and Wagner, and now, as we recover from shell-shocked catatonia after the assaults of an abrasive modernism, Mendelssohn seems like a pleasant oasis once again. It's true Maisky's cello sounds a touch lugubrious in some of the more light-weight adaptations, but this CD, at almost 80 minutes, is nevertheless excellent value. Both of Mendelssohn's cello sonatas are included, plus his early Variations Concertantes, penned when the cello was an instrument without its now characteristic prong and instead held tightly between the knees.

JONI MITCHELL

Travelogue

Produced by Larry Klein & Joni Mitchell

Nonesuch 79817-2

Joni Mitchell's music can't count as classical in the usual sense, classics though her late 1960s and early 1970s songs undoubtedly are. But the treatment given a selection of her numbers on these two enhanced CDs, with their full orchestral arrangements, brings them to the verge of the category. Unfortunately this reviewer finds them unconvincing, and more than a little sad. Her early recordings were among the freshest, most poignant and inspired productions, both in words and music, of an era that saw a huge explosion of creativity in the singer-songwriter genre. The kind of elaboration these recent CDs represent can only detract from that early spring-like newness. It's true Mitchell long ago opted to move into the jazz-vocal world, and some of those later songs are reworked here as well.

But items featuring over-familiar words from St. Paul and the poet W.B. Yeats are weird indeed. It's a problem for any artist who experiences a youthful surge of inspiration -- what to do when it's over? There are several options, but re-recording the old masterpieces with inflated accompaniment is among the least attractive of them.

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