Philadelphia-born pianist Lydia Artymiw had already established a successful performing career when she joined the University of Minnesota music faculty in 1989. Three decades later, Artymiw has built a distinguished practice as a teacher, but she has made few recordings to bolster that early reputation.
Artymiw's new album featuring Mendelssohn's complete music for cello and piano, made with cellist Marcy Rosen, shows what record collectors have been missing all these years.
In many ways, Artymiw's collaboration with Rosen harks back to a previous generation of chamber music-making. It is warmly cooperative, full of easy charm and entirely lacking in the type of attention-grabbing gestures that younger soloists can resort to in the intensely competitive modern recital platform.
That isn't to say Artymiw and Rosen lack muscle and intensity where necessary. The opening movement of Cello Sonata No. 1 has a surging energy and vigor, without becoming hectoring or unnecessarily aggressive.
The same spirit of old-school collegiality suffuses the playful Allegretto scherzando movement of Cello Sonata No. 2. The interplay between Artymiw's nimble piano filigree and Rosen's puckish pizzicati is delightfully ear-tickling. And in the sonata's soulful Adagio movement, a virtually ideal balance is struck between the shadowy ruminations of Rosen's ripe-toned cello and the more rhetorical piano part, which Artymiw carefully keeps from sounding portentous.
The joy of collaborative music-making oozes from these performances. The sonatas were written by Mendelssohn for his cello-playing brother Paul, a banker by profession. Artymiw and Rosen suggest the pleasure these siblings must have felt while playing together.
Case in point: the buoyant opening movement of Sonata No. 2, welling with buoyancy and a sense of well-being, the two instruments dovetailing in happy consanguinity.
The same is true of the Variations Concertantes, which opens the album. It's a sunny work beaming with light and optimism in Artymiw and Rosen's flowing interpretation.
Two shorter works are added as encores, the "Song Without Words" Op. 109 and an unfinished fragment titled "Assai tranquillo." Both showcase Rosen's singing cello tone and her alluringly communicative way of shaping phrases.
The recorded balance slightly favors Rosen's cello, but not artificially. All told, this is a richly enjoyable CD, full of artistic wisdom and deeply respectful of the composer's musical intentions.
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.