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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Rondo Brillant in E flat major Op.29 [10.32]
Piano Concerto No.1 in G minor Op.25 [18.22]
Capriccio Brillant in B minor Op.22 [10.31]
Piano Concerto No.2 in D minor Op.40 [21.15]
Serenade and Allegro Giojoso Op.43 [12.03]
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
Die Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
rec. 2016/17, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne
Hybrid SACD Stereo/Multichannel 5.0, reviewed in surround
BIS SACD BIS2264 [74.08]

I always look forward to the next BIS release from Ronald Brautigam because almost whatever he records benefits from the clarity of period instruments. Here he uses a 2010 copy by Paul McNulty of an 1830 Pleyel to give us five Mendelssohn concertante pieces: the two well known Piano Concertos framed by three shorter compositions all from the 1830s. He is accompanied as usual by the superb Kölner Akademie conducted by Michael Alexander Willens. The notes by Horst Scholtz give as thorough an account as could be wished of the circumstances surrounding the composition of each piece. BIS provide their normal spectacularly clear surround recording to complete a very desirable SACD.

Mendelssohn was of course one of the greatest of keyboard-virtuoso composers and all these works were composed for himself and for the various women in his life. He was a great master of improvisation and always attracted public attention despite avoiding the usual operatic paraphrases so popular at the time. Audiences were held spellbound throughout his performances. These were characterised by lightness and strength. As reported by a contemporary commentator, "in all the delicate nuances his fingers seemed to be like feathers, in those of more forcible and impetuous character there was a grasp and an élan which almost took away one's breath," (see Schonberg: The Great Pianists). This is precisely why Brautigam succeeds in such music. He has all the technique needed plus a willingness to think himself back into the sounds of the day helped importantly by an instrument that sounds lighter and more colourful than our present concert grands. This is not to suggest all this music is delicate. Far from it. Whilst not sounding quite as wild as Liszt, Mendelssohn was more than capable of drama and excitement. Listening straight through this present disc (not really the way to get the best from it if one wishes to savour separate works I admit, but I did listen separately on other occasions!) I was struck by how varied it all sounds.

I cannot praise this issue highly enough. Whether you know these pieces already or are new to them you will be as thrilled as Mendelssohn's own audiences were to hear such masterly and entertaining music in such convincing performances.

Dave Billinge


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