Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2; Variations sérieuses; Rondo capriccioso

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2; Variations sérieuses; Rondo capriccioso
PERFORMER: Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano); Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt
CATALOGUE NO: 468 600-2
Mendelssohn was rather disparaging about his once-popular G minor Concerto: he had, he confessed, tossed it off in a few days, and almost carelessly. Yet beneath its glittering surface it is a highly original work, with all three of its movements linked together, and each of them appearing to begin in medias res. The more sombre Concerto in D minor is similarly constructed, and is notable for a wonderfully impassioned second subject which bursts in impulsively in the ‘wrong’ key before finding its way home. Both works were well known to Liszt, whose own concertos were clearly influenced by their example.

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Jean-Yves Thibaudet is undoubtedly a fine pianist, and one who has no problems with the virtuoso demands of these pieces. But they need more than mere display, and at the speed at which Thibaudet takes most of the music it would scarcely be out of place in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. The notable exception is the G minor Concerto’s Andante, which is so dragged out as to sound mawkishly sentimental. Nor do the solo items fare a great deal better: the well known Rondo capriccioso never lets up for an instant, and even the profound Variations sérieuses are disappointingly matter-of-fact. Murray Perahia’s recording offers all this repertoire, and also throws in the fine Prelude and Fugue in E minor. In his hands it sounds like real music; and for all the superior recorded sound – and orchestral playing –of this new disc, his is the one to go for. Misha Donat