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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Heimkehr aus der Fremde (Son and Stranger) Overture op.89 (1829) [7:34]
Concerto in E for piano and orchestra (1842) (realised and completed by Martin Yates (2013)) * [28:01]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Grand Concerto (1830) (Piano Concerto no.1 in E minor op.11)† (orch. Mily Balakirev) (1910) [39:20]
Victor Sangiorgio (piano)
Royal Northern Sinfonia/Martin Yates
rec. Hall One, Sage Gateshead, Gateshead, 15-16 January 2014
* world premiere recording; † first digital recording

When first issued this was Dutton Epoch’s first engagement with the Royal Northern Sinfonia. They have chosen two vintage romantic era piano concertos for the purpose. Each however presents a different twist on the orthodox. The Mendelssohn Piano Concerto No. 3 is Martin Yates’ inevitably speculative realisation of the fragments of an unfinished Piano Concerto in E. As for the Chopin Grand Concerto it is the Piano Concerto No. 1 in rich finery draped over it by Chopin fanatic, Mily Balakirev. These are generously and very creditably joined by an extremely rare Mendelssohn overture.

The pianist at the centre of the concertos is the valiant and brilliant Victor Sangiorgio. Here is a virtuoso who has embraced repertoire currently treated as peripheral as enthusiastically as the majority of pianists immerse themselves in the central fifty piano concertos. Sangiorgio has recorded for Dutton two Godard piano concertos across two volumes (CDLX7291 and CDLX7274) as well as those by D'Erlanger (CDLX7300), Braunfels (CDLX7304) and Bate and Reizenstein (CDLX7282).

Heimkehr aus der Fremde (1829) — also known as Son and Stranger — is a one act 'liederspiel' which the composer suppressed after a private premiere. It's an entertainingly sweet essay in Mendelssohnian tension and fluency. Along the way we encounter 'echoes' of the Schumann Third Symphony and of Mendelssohn's own Midsummer Night's Dream and Schöne Melusine. We should welcome its addition to this programme. How easy it would have been just to stick to the two piano concertos. It's a measure of Dutton's care for its customers that this example of rarish Mendelssohn appears here at all.

It is not so long ago that Oleg Marshev and Danacord treated us to a handsome four CD collection of Mendelssohn's works for piano and orchestra. That too included Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto in E (No. 3) in an alternative realisation by Marcello Bufalini. It's six minutes shorter (22:45) than Martin Yates' version (28:01) of the Concerto. Given the sketchy original pages each such attempt is bound to dive out into very speculative waters. It takes come confidence to assume the Mendelssohnian manner yet to make assumptions about originality and how Mendelssohn might have developed his style. Yates has no qualms about that as he has already proved with his work on incomplete scores by other composers: the Moeran Second Symphony, Ireland's Sarnia and Bax's Symphony in F - all for Dutton. Yates' realisation and completion of the Third Piano Concerto is a different work from the Third Concerto as heard with Marshev. It boasts a dynamic and spirited line in energetic flight. The first movement is played with an elegance that applies to both soloist and orchestra but it also moves into a nocturnal conspiratorial atmosphere with similarities to Schumann's romantic whirlpools. The second movement has a steady pulse with some hearteasingly beautiful writing (2:49 onwards) and trilled sentimental decoration. A long sparkling Finale follows after a peaceful brief introduction. It's all done in a nice facsimile of Mendelssohn's style with a dash of Schumann. It also stands as a precursor of the Saint-Saens and Arensky piano concertos. It's certainly lively enough with chuckling quasi-pianola pell-mell of the sort to be found of the Capriccio Brillante.

Balakirev wrote two piano concertos (Naxos; Hyperion; Chandos) of his own as well as a Grand Fantasia on Russian Folksongs for piano and orchestra. A lifelong Chopin enthusiast, Balakirev re-engineered the orchestral parts of the Chopin First Piano Concerto in 1910 and dubbed it "Grand Concerto". The results, while hardly radically different, establish a sort of full-fat elixir for the orchestra and stands as a fascinating contrast with the reduced orchestrations that have been recorded quite a few times on CD (review review review review). Chopin and Mendelssohn were contemporaries and the two piano concertos here are not that distant from each other in style. The Balakirev involves a reading that tracks through stern - verging on stormy - with pearly cascades, the gentle touch and the languishing sigh (4:40). It has the perpetual motion, swell and heave of the Schumann Piano Concerto. That said, the finale does indeed have a heavier and more sumptuously upholstered impact than we are accustomed to. There's chuckling confidence from Sangiorgio as well as some breathtakingly delicate introspection and elegance at 3:10. It's superb work from both Yates and Sangiorgio - the essence of Chopin. Sangiorgio is well on top of all the glittering charm and beguiling demands of this work.

There's a an admirable liner-note by Roderick Swanston which is well worth reading.

This will appeal to open-minded admirers of Mendelssohn, Chopin and Balakirev and the romantic piano concerto.

Rob Barnett



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