Mendelssohn; Schumann

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn; Schumann
WORKS: Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture; Symphony No. 3; Schumann: Piano Concerto
PERFORMER: Maria João Pires (piano); London Symphony Orchestra/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: LSO0765 (SACD & Blu-ray audio)


John Eliot Gardiner’s foreword gives lyrical descriptions of what he feels lay behind the two Mendelssohn pieces recorded here, and then goes on, ‘No doubt the composer would have been appalled to see his subtle intentions and fastidious symphonic skills misrepresented and described in such superficial pictorial terms.’ Maybe. But I think he would most certainly have been unhappy with the inserted slower tempos here in passages of both works which, to my ears, distort the structures to an unacceptable degree. Mendelssohn was not a wallower, and I’ve already quoted in these columns contemporary evidence that he preferred ‘clever gradations of light and shade’ to changes of tempo. These interferences with the text are greatly to be regretted because, apart from some slightly over-noisy timpani at various points in the symphony, playing and balance throughout are exemplary.

A special laurel wreath should be placed on the brow of guest principal oboist Celine Moinet, whose phrasing of the tune at the start of the concerto is magical. With Pires at the keyboard, this work is performed as written. She has the enviable ability to make everything sound fresh but natural, and her tone is enchanting, not least in Schumann’s ‘Prophet Bird’, an encore to the concerto on the Blu-ray disc. The definition on this is superb and the camera work actually helps the viewer understand the music.


Roger Nichols