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CONVERSIONS: MENDELSSOHN, MOSCHELES AND BACH
Friday August 4, 2017 | 1:00 pm
Christ Church Cathedral
Pianist Byron Shenkman and cellist Michael Unterman present a recital based on composers from the Mendelssohn circle in Leipzig, each of whom was born Jewish but converted to Christianity to conform to societal norms. The works by Ignaz Moscheles and Felix Mendelssohn in particular are notable for the ways in which they riff off of Lutheran roots in surprising ways.
Moscheles’ Etudes in Melodic Counterpoint are fascinating miniatures, based on preludes by J.S. Bach, remembered in Leipzig as the former director of the Thomaskirche. Preludes from The Well-Tempered Clavier are played as Bach wrote them by the piano, with added melodic lines written by Moscheles for the cello. They are whimsical throwbacks to what some consider the beginnings of the Historical Performance movement, set off by Felix Mendelssohn’s revivals of the St. Matthew Passion.
A similar but more emotionally poignant transformation occurs in the third movement of his Sonata in D major, which begins with a simple church chorale on the piano, then is answered by a chromatically tinted and verklempt outcry on the cello. The two contrasting voices continue in dialogue, finding resolution at the movement’s closing. Whether the inspiration for this cello part is Ashkenazi, or perhaps Roma, the movement represents a remarkable clash of cultures, perhaps reflecting a similar split within Mendelssohn himself.
This concert will be preceded by a free screening of Bach, Mendelssohn and the St. Matthew Passion at 4pm. This is a documentary for the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia funded by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, leading up to the Mendelssohn Club’s North American Premiere of the historic Mendelssohn version of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Participants include internationally noted authorities on both Bach and Mendelssohn; locations included Berlin, Leipzig and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.