Mendelssohn – Piano Concertos Nos 1&2

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: ATMA
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Symphony No. 5 (Reformation)
PERFORMER: Quebec SO/Louis Lortie (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ACD2 2617

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A German critic in 1833 praised Mendelssohn’s playing of his First Piano Concerto for its ‘rapidity, precision, delicacy and fine taste’, while the English critic Henry Chorley, reviewing the his execution of the Second Piano Concerto six years later, felt no one ‘could fail to be excited and fascinated by it, despite its want of all the caprices and colourings of his contemporaries.’

Louis Lortie scores highly on rapidity, precision and delicacy. In matters of taste and caprice, though, he is at times less satisfactory. Particularly irritating is his habit of delaying important melody notes – a perfectly acceptable practice if the delay does not draw attention to itself, and as long as the pianist is aware of the brutal law of diminishing returns.

Under the heading of taste one might also include that instinctive appreciation of exactly how one section should follow another, important in the First Concerto especially, where Mendelssohn’s impatience to astound occasionally gets the better of his structural control. Stephen Hough understands the nature of these links in his Hyperion disc, and confines his note delays to one single solo passage in the finale, lending it a deliberately playful, fantastical character. The Hyperion piano sound is also fuller.

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Lortie’s very fast tempo for the second movement of the Reformation Symphony rather robs it of its lilt and charm, and the outer movements of this work need more majesty and power than the Quebec orchestra can command. A comparison between Lortie’s and John Eliot Gardiner’s spikier, more vigorous dotted rhythms in the finale typifies the overall difference. Roger Nichols