> MENDELSSOHN Piano Concerto [CF]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Capriccio brillant in B minor Op. 22 (1832)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor Op. 25 (1831)

Molto allegro con fuoco
Presto - Molto allegro e vivace
Rondo brillant in E flat Op. 29 (1834)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor Op. 40 (1837)

Allegro appassionato
Adagio: Molto sostenuto
Finale: Presto scherzando
Serenade and Allegro giocoso in B minor Op. 43 (1838)

Stephen Hough (piano)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Lawrence Foster (conductor)
Recorded in Dudley Town Hall on 9,10 January 1997
The Romantic Piano Concerto: Volume 17
HYPERION CDA66969 [75.13]


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Judging by the impressive quality of Houghís playing here Mendelssohn was no mean player either. Framed by three ten to twelve minute light-hearted single movement works, the two concertos (already more familiar to music lovers than the bulk of Hyperionís Romantic Piano Series because they sustain a fairly regular position in the repertoire) are always a pleasure to listen to. Mendelssohnís short life, cut short in 1847 as concert life and the technical developments of the piano and the techniques of its performers were beginning to hot up, thanks largely to Liszt, precluded a role for him. He certainly disapproved of Lisztís performing antics, not for Mendelssohn the paraphrase of opera tunes of other composers though he himself was a fabulous improviser, but he remained part of the circle (including the Schumanns and Chopin) of innovative executants as well as composers. In this latter capacity he was not driven to ground-breaking when it came to matters of style, for one can find plenty of signs of Mozart, Beethoven and Weber in his writing as well as absorbing the influences by his contemporaries. The relationship between piano and orchestra is a case in point; as with Chopinís two concertos, the solo instrument hardly rests while the orchestraís contribution is of relatively little import. Nevertheless the music of these works, all written in the 1830s, is always both charming and delightful. The finale of the first concerto remains a particular favourite with this reviewer, vibrantly thrilling once past the slightly portentous orchestral opening. There is an almost operetta flavour to its main melody, essentially a galop from the music of the salon, and none the worse for that. That Liszt sight-read it flawlessly from Mendelssohnís manuscript in front of the composer in Erardís Paris showrooms made an indelible impression on the composer, despite his opinion of the showman pianist.

Mendelssohn would surely have approved of the performances here; Houghís playing provides a broad palette of colour, plenty of sparkle, lyrical warmth of tone and a sense of ease in the clarity of the passage work. But we all know itís far from easy. Lawrence Foster and the CBSO make the most of the infrequent opportunities to shine in the orchestral ritornelli and accompany with stylish sensitivity.

Christopher Fifield


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