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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor (1831) [19.11]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor (1837) [22.32]
Rudolf Serkin (piano)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
Capriccio Brillante in B minor (1832) [11.06]
Rondo Brillante in E flat major (1835) [11.19]
Serenade and Allegro Giocoso in B minor (1838) [13.01]
Rena Kyriakou (piano)
Pro Musica Symphony, Vienna/Hans Swarovsky
rec. Broadwood Hotel, Philadelphia, December 1957 and October 1959 and first released as a Columbia/CBS LP in 1960 (Concertos); Remainder, Vienna, 1963 (location not given)
ALTO ALC1319 [77.41]

Mendelssohn composed his First Piano Concerto in 1831 under the influence of his love for the beautiful Delphine von Schauroth, to whom he dedicated the work. Unfortunately the alliance was not to be for the young composer realised that he had too much competition from the great and the good. The piece was quickly completed and premiered to an enthusiastic audience on 17 October 1831 with Mendelssohn as soloist. That concert also included his Midsummer Night’s Dream overture and Symphony No. 1 in C minor. The Concerto impressed Liszt who took it into his repertoire.

Beginning in fiery spirit, the First Piano Concerto encompasses many moods and is notable for its remarkable transition into the lovely, tender, second Andante movement. Fluid, florid and clearly written with Delphine in mind, it has frequently been compared to an elegant Song Without Words. Mendelssohn himself liked to play the scintillating, whirlwind third movement, marked Presto scherzando, as fast as possible. Serkin is no slouch either.

The Second Concerto was composed for the 1837 Birmingham Music Festival. It was reasonably favourably received but the composer was not happy with it and delayed its publication. Colleagues were unenthusiastic, agreeing that it presented fewer virtuosic challenges. Schumann thought it differed too little in design from the previous concerto. Indeed the similarities are only too obvious. Nevertheless there is still much to enjoy in the work.

Rudolf Serkin was born in Bohemia — the present day Czech Republic — but fled to America following Hitler’s rise to power. He made many recordings for Columbia (CBS/Sony). Serkin was undoubtedly one of the twentieth century’s most gifted and brilliant pianists. Here both he and Ormandy deliver readings with considerable attack and power but with equally nuanced and subtle delicacy.

Rena Kyriakou (1917-94) was born in Crete. She studied under Paul Weingarten in Vienna and with Henri Büsser and Isidor Philipp at the Paris Conservatoire where at the age of just sixteen she won first piano prize. She recorded little but her discography includes pieces by Chabrier, Granados, Albéniz, Mendelssohn and John Field. She plays the three items that complete the programme of this disc.

The Capriccio Brillante is the best known of the three remaining pieces and has often been recorded together with one or other or both piano concertos. It lives up to its name; it is sparkling and is capriciously mischievous and playful. Zestful, it includes material reminiscent of the Midsummer Night’s Dream music and makes much of a none-too-pompous march - that might even be thought of as being close to another wedding march - with variations. The Rondo Brillante alas offers little more than a pale re-tread of this work. Mendelssohn had difficulty conceiving it and it went through a number of tinkerings and revisions for something like eleven years. The Serenade and Allegro Giocoso is different in that there is a slow melancholy introduction before the usual sparkly material, forceful and determined with a melodic line - but not especially memorable. Kyriakou plays with energy and conviction.

Ian Lace



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