Mendelssohn/Bruch

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn/Bruch
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Concerto for Two Pianos in E; Concerto for Two Pianos, Op. 88a
PERFORMER: Katia & Marielle Labeque (pianos)Philharmonia Orchestra/Semyon Bychkov
CATALOGUE NO: 432 095-2 DDD
Both these works were written for sibling pianists, and both disappeared from sight after their first few performances. Mendelssohn’s E major Concerto dates from 1823, when he was only 14: he and his sister Fanny premiered it the following year in Berlin on her birrhday, but it had to wait until 1960 for publication. The concerto’s style is clearly indebted to Mozart, but it has a considerable charm of its own, not least in the extended slow movement.

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Bruch’s concerto was one of his last works, commissioned by the Sutro sisters, and first performed under Stokowski in 1916. It’s actually a reworking of his Third Orchestral Suite, based on Good Friday celebrations he had observed on a trip to Capri in 1904. The four movements are linked by the idea of a solemn procession which breaks into rejoicing, and provide a delightful mix of neo-Baroque severity, folk melodies and Bruch’s characteristically adept orchestration. The Sutro sisters clearly found the piece a bit tricky, and spent much of the rest of their lives rewriting the concerto: Bruch’s original reappeared only after Ottilie’s death in 1970. No such problems for the Labeques, who dispatch both pieces with their customary flair. Bychkov’s conducting, the playing of the Philharmonia and the atmospheric recording are all beyond reproach. Stephen Maddock