Classical Music Guide Forums - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - Written by Donald Isler

Sontraud Speidel Recital - IKIF

Sontraud Speidel is a refined, sensitive and confident pianist, as well as a highly respected teacher in her hometown of Karlsruhe, Germany, and in Korea and many other places. Everything is under control and she never gets carried away with herself, though her tendency for speeds which are on the slow side sometimes lessens the visceral excitement one expects in fast movments.

Ms. Speidel spoke before each group on the first half of the program, and her comments were enlightening. She told us of Schumann's disappointment with an unfavorable review of the Kinderszenen. Her performances of these short works were very fine. In particular, Träumerei was beautiful and dreamy, and the last section of Kind im Einschlummern was wonderfully effective. (She has a beautiful tone and excels in controlling the piano in very soft dynamics.)

The Mendelssohn Sonatas, despite the high opus number of the latter, are early works, written when the composer was 12 and 13 years old. One would be happy to hear them performed more often. Noteworthy was the bluster and good humor of the first movement of the second sonata, which was followed by a dreamy slow movement, and then a witty presto.

Ms. Speidel spoke about the unequal treatment of Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847), Felix's elder sister. Though her early education was the same as Felix's she, as a woman, was not allowed to have a career as an adult. She continued to compose and perform at concerts at her home, which were attended by the elite of her day. Though her family did not encourage her to continue with her work, her husband did. Ms. Speidel expressed the opinion that Fanny was just as talented as her brother. (I wonder if she has heard the story I heard at a lecture some years ago in which the speaker told of Felix visiting the then young Queen Victoria, who liked to sing. He offered to accompany her in any of a group of songs he had brought along. After they had done several of them he said "Would your Majesty be willing to sing one of my songs, too? Those were my sister's songs.") The Saltarello Ms. Speidel played was charming and had energy, though one could imagine it might have had even a little more "spice" if played a bit faster.

The second half of the program was devoted to Schumann's Kreisleriana. This work, in Ms. Speidel's conception, lasted 40 minutes, somewhat longer than usual, as the fast movements were played in an unhurried manner. Ms. Speidel seems to favor lyricism over passion, and there was much to admire in her performance, especially the expressive way she played the themes of the first two movements in B Flat major, the interesting voicing, the clarity of the fughetta, and the syncopation in the last movement.

Ms. Speidel gave one encore, Mendelssohn's Spinning Song, which percolated nicely.

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