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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Concerto for Violin, Piano & String Orchestra in D minor, MWV O4 [36:06]
Concerto for Violin & String Orchestra in D minor, MWV O3 [20:38]
Lena Neudauer (violin), Matthias Kirschnereit (piano), Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim/Timo Handschuh
rec. Johanneshaus Niefern-Öschelbronn, Germany, 2017
CPO 555 197-2 [56:51]

I thought that I had a copy of the Orfeo disc of Mendelssohn’s three early concertos (C761092A), but try as I might, I cannot find this disc on my shelf; I can remember being impressed with the performance, but alas the whereabouts of this set eludes me at the moment. Thankfully though, I do have a downloaded copy of the highly regarded DG recording of both these concertos by Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich (427 338-2), which is also coupled as this disc. Both of these recordings opt for the original version of the Double Concerto, the one for Violin, Piano and Strings, this was the version that the fourteen-year-old Felix composed for his violin teacher and which was performed at a private concert with the young composer playing the piano part. A later version where the composer added winds and timpani is also available, but it is the original that holds sway in the recording catalogues.

The Double Concerto, as it is also known, shares with the string symphonies an affinity with CPE Bach rather than the early romantics and is therefore more classical in nature than what was to follow shortly. It has the standard three movement structure of fast-slow-fast, with a lengthy orchestral introduction before a solo instrument, the piano, appears, although the violin soloist does begin as part of the orchestra. As a concerto the work is not as profound as his later, more mature works, but it is important in that it maps out Mendelssohn’s development as a composer. For me it is the slow movement that displays the finest music, it sounds at times more like a sonata with string accompaniment than a concerto movement. Here Lena Neudauer and Matthias Kirschnereit have a beautiful sense of togetherness, producing a more pleasant tone than their more illustrious competitors, their performance shows a touch which is a little lighter that Kremer and Argerich and therefore more in keeping with the classical nature of the work.

The early D minor Violin Concerto has fared pretty well on disc; along with the versions already mentioned above I have always had a soft spot for Viktoria Mullova’s performance under Neville Marriner (432 077-2). I find Mullova’s performance less self-indulgent than that of Kremer, especially in the slow middle movement; his is the slowest by far, nearly half a minute on Mullova, and a full minute and a half slower than Neudauer. Despite the brevity, Neudaure never sounds rushed, rather this performance has quickly become my favourite, it has a lightness of touch which is aided by a beautiful rounded tone that really brings the best out of this movement. This is true of the outer movements also, marginally quicker tempos in the opening Allegro but slightly the slowest final movement, not that you can tell, as it is as exciting as both Kremer and Mullova. For me the this is the best all-round performance of the Concerto, it is certainly the most in-keeping with the classical nature of the work, with the same being true of the Concerto for Violin and Piano, with the other performances making it sound a little too romantic.

The Südwestdeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim under Timo Handschuh are excellent throughout, this is not an original instruments band, but they do have a lighter style, one that is perhaps, influenced by the teachings of the original instruments school to produce, for me at least, the best orchestral accompaniment. As always, I came to the booklet after the recording, ant they are excellent, detailed and informative, as with the vast majority of CPO discs, they give real insight into the young composer and his music. A very pleasing recorded sound makes this a very welcome addition to my collection of Mendelssohn discs.

Stuart Sillitoe

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