> MENDELSSOHN Concerti for two pianos [TH]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1845)
Concerto in A flat major for two pianos (1824)
Concerto in E major for two pianos (1823)
Stephen Coombs, Ian Munro (pianos)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Jerzy Maksymiuk
Recorded in City Hall, Glasgow, on 31 August and 1 September 1991
HYPERION CDA 66567 [72.27]


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A glance at the dates shows that these were teenage works. A glance at the disc’s overall timing also shows that they are both very substantial pieces, which is not surprising, given that the teenage Mendelssohn was possibly the greatest child prodigy in music history. As Julian Haylock’s typically informative note tells us, Mendelssohn’s piano style was "derived not so much from the orchestral texturing of Beethoven and Schubert, as from the filigree intricacies of the German virtuoso piano school, represented principally by Weber and Hummel". He was not so much out to push forward the boundaries of the contemporary instrument as to exploit its best qualities – brilliant treble clarity and the ability to sustain a flowing, cantabile line. The two concertos on this disc exemplify these qualities admirably.

Both concertos had been dropped from the repertoire and were entirely forgotten until, in 1950, the original manuscripts were ‘rediscovered’ in the archive of the Berlin State Library. It seems certain that the E major was written for the composer to play with his sister, Fanny, who was also a gifted pianist. The A flat could have been inspired by his first encounter with another astonishing young piano virtuoso, Moscheles, though whether they ever played the piece is not known. The main criticism of these Double Concertos has been Mendelssohn’s tendency to overstretch flimsy melodic material, an unusual amount of repetition having to take place in order for the two soloists to have an equal share. This is true to an extent, and virtually predictable in one so young, though his astonishing mastery of form and structure was not too many years away. Once one accepts the blissfully naïve, untroubled nature of the music, there is a great deal to enjoy. Indeed, given such refreshingly direct, unmannered and scintillating performances as here, the works emerge with astonishing creativity and flair, clearly showing a composer on the verge of artistic maturity. Sample the delectable 6/8 Adagio of the E major, which anticipates Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte style, the melody spun with seemingly unending elegance and grace. The semiquaver pyrotechnics of the finale show the Hummel influence, but this is never mere note-spinning – one is always aware of continuity of line and direction of development. The first movement of the A flat, one of the composer’s longest concerto movements (17.16), displays true internal balance and an emerging awareness of structural proportion. The delicate, wistful Andante foreshadows the later G minor Piano Concerto’s slow movement, and Coombs and Munro clearly enjoy themselves enormously in the Allegro vivace finale, where the mixture of boyish naivety and Weber-ish high spirits is truly infectious.

Recording quality is good, with balance between the two pianos and orchestra well realised. Support from Maksymiuk and the BBC Scottish is excellent, with sympathetic strings and delightful wind playing. It is good to occasionally indulge oneself in music that has no intention of plumbing the depths, and the charm and sheer ‘likeability’ of these two pieces make them very hard to resist.

Tony Haywood


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