Discovering Mendelssohn

Discovering Mendelssohn

Christian Li’s uncanny feeling for emotional contrasts and melodic ebb and flow proves an ideal match for the music of Felix Mendelssohn. The Australian violinist, born in 2007, has built the program of his second album around the composer’s evergreen Violin Concerto in E minor. He has chosen a sequence of well-matched companion pieces associated with Mendelssohn’s frequent travels around Europe, including music by others he discovered while on tour. Above all, Li presents the composer as part of a living tradition, open to influences from such long-dead figures as J.S. Bach and Mozart and one, Franz Schubert, who died during Mendelssohn’s late teens. “The repertoire is linked to the places Mendelssohn visited during his life,” observes Li. “At the center of the album is Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, which was written relatively late in his life. He was already a masterful composer by then and the concerto embodies all the experience gained from his life as a keen traveler. I discovered Mendelssohn’s creative and adventurous spirit with this album.” Mendelssohn Discovered includes imaginative arrangements of several Mendelssohn miniatures, including a sensuous version for guitar and fiddle of the “Venetian Gondola Song,” beautifully done in company with Xuefei Yang, and a ravishing account of “On Wings of Song” with harpist Yinuo Mu and members of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. It also contains elegantly crafted readings of Schubert’s Serenade and Mendelssohn’s famous “Spring Song” and a sparkling performance of the then 15-year-old composer’s Rondo capriccioso. Li finds fresh things to say about Mendelssohn’s Concerto, backed by sensitive playing from the Melbourne Symphony under the supple direction of Andrew Davis, while he and pianist James Baillieu ramp up the emotional tensions and dramatic contrasts in Mozart’s Violin Sonata in E minor K. 304. The duo infuses the Sonata’s first movement with Romantic expression without distorting its Classical proportions. And the album sounds an exquisite reminder of Mendelssohn’s contribution to resurrection of Bach’s music in the form of the aria “Erbarme dich” from the St Matthew Passion, presented here with cello substituting for the original’s solo voice part. “Mendelssohn understood Bach’s genius and was responsible for reviving his music with the performance of the St Matthew Passion he conducted in Berlin in 1829,” Li notes. “The story behind this movement, Peter’s betrayal of Jesus, helped me understand the music and I can feel the guilt and regret of Peter. I try to play it with heartfelt sorrow. I recorded it with Bach’s original instrumentation, which includes lute and organ.”

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