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Felix MENDELSSOHN
Piano Concertos*: no. 1 in G minor, op. 25, no. 2 in D minor, op. 40, Variations sérieuses, op. 54, Rondo capriccioso, op. 14
Jean-Yves Thibaudet (pianoforte), Leipzig
Gewandhaus Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt*
Recorded 20-21 Dec. 1997, Leipzig Gewandhaus (Concertos)
Rec 10-11 March 2001, The Colosseum, Watford (solo pieces)
DECCA 468 600-2 [57.45]


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I reviewed Thibaudetís previous concerto coupling of Grieg and Chopin 2 (DECCA 467 093-2) with somewhat lukewarm enthusiasm. There is rather more to be said for this one, though it is the solo pieces which create the strongest impression. In the first concerto in particular, Thibaudetís outer movements are very fast indeed and the impression is of a light, rather superficial touch. Not that any notes are left unplayed, but the scintillation factor that a Cherkassky in his prime might have produced is not really present. Not for the first time we find the writer of the booklet notes (excellent in themselves), apparently at odds with what we actually hear. Jeremy Siepmann quite rightly points to the importance of Rudolf Serkinís "electrifyingly virile" recording in re-establishing a work that had come to be seen as "the more or less exclusive province of fleet-fingered young women". The trouble is, if Thibaudet were a woman heíd be the fleetest-fingered of the lot. I donít know if Siepmann intended a knock at Moura Lympany, a notable exponent of this concerto from the earliest days of her career, but her Readersí Digest recording (last spotted on Ivory Classics IC70906 and worth having if still available) sees her using tempi just slightly slower to produce an altogether stronger effect, fluid and brilliant as required, and also, thanks to an accompaniment from Sir Malcolm Sargent in particularly good form, a less static andante compared with the somewhat pallid beauty on offer from Thibaudet and Blomstedt.

Where Thibaudet and Siepmann do seem to be in line is in their wish to promote the idea that the 2nd Concerto is actually the finer of the two. Thibaudet plays the first movement in particular with a passion that relates it more than usually to Schumann. Still, the impression of a certain keyboard superficiality remains, something which is decidedly not present in the solo pieces. Here the recording itself is more closely focused, but I suspect the real difference lies in the three years and more that separate the sessions Ė a lot can happen to a young artist in that time. The call for scintillating finger-work in, say, the eighth variation of op. 54 is met with absolute command, nor does he lack a singing cantabile when needed. The final presto is truly fearsome while the Rondo Capriccioso is suitably mercurial.

I suspect Thibaudet will give us better versions of the concertos one day. In the meantime, his many admirers have the Variations sérieuses to rejoice in. How about the Songs without Words next?

Christopher Howell


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