Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Concerto No. 1 in E major for two pianos and orchestra (1823) [28:57]
Concerto No. 2 in A flat major for two pianos and orchestra (1824) [41:34]
Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas (pianos)
Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra/Bystrìk Režucha
rec. 26-27 October, 1-2 November 1995, House of Art, Kosice, Slovakia
MSR CLASSICS MS 1330 [70:27]

It is unsurprising that concertos for two or more pianists are rarely heard in most concert halls. The need for a second soloist and second piano and the reduction in platform space are all good reasons for promoters to avoid them. This is a pity as the repertoire contains many works of great merit and interest. Whilst the concertos of Mozart, Bartók and Poulenc have obvious great merit many of the others have more interest than merit. Much as I love many of his early works, Mendelssohn’s two concertos do, on the whole, fall into this category. The first was written for the composer to play alongside his sister, Fanny, at one of the Mendelssohn family’s private concerts for which the often recorded string symphonies were also written. The second, although completed in November 1824, just over a year after the first, was not performed until 1827 when the soloists were the composer and Ignaz Moscheles.

The outer movements, and especially the finales, of both concertos are best described as “dashing”. Their sheer drive is often infectious but, although Mendelssohn does include sections of a more relaxed character and less busy texture, the listener can end up feeling somewhat exhausted by the experience. The slow movements provide very welcome periods of calm and overall these are well constructed and musically inventive. Nonetheless there is something a little relentless about them, especially if you were to listen to them in succession. There is no good reason to do this other than to observe the composer’s much greater freedom and inventiveness in the later concerto, albeit expressed at much greater length.

The presentation of the disc is admirable, with excellent notes on the music and the performers, and the performers do all they can with the music. I have to admit, nonetheless, to feeling somewhat battered at the end of each work. I do not think that this is due to any shortcomings by the engineers, but suspect that it is an inherent problem in the use of modern pianos with what sounds a comparatively large orchestra. Certainly there is no lack of poetry in the gentler passages and the soloists’ quiet playing is delightful. Nonetheless, at least for me, the problem remains. I have found listening to this disc a frustrating experience as I want to enjoy the music - not as good as the Octet or the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” Overture but still of some quality and interest - but find that its actual sound as presented here gets in the way of real enjoyment.

John Sheppard