About this Recording
8.550681 - MENDELSSOHN: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Capriccio Brillant / Rondo Brillant

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)

Piano Concerto No.1 in G Minor, Op. 25
Piano Concerto No.2 in D Minor, Op. 40
Capriccio Brillant in B Minor, Op. 22
Rondo Brillant in E Flat Major, Op. 29

Felix Mendelssohn, grandson of Moses Mendelssohn, the great Jewish thinker of the Enlightenment, was born in Hamburg in 1809, the son of a prosperous banker. His family was influential in cultural circles, and he and his sister were educated in an environment that encouraged both musical and general cultural interests. At the same time the extensive acquaintance of the Mendelssohns among artists and men of letters brought an unusual breadth of mind, a stimulus to natural curiosity.

Much of Mendelssohn's childhood was passed in Berlin, where his parents moved when he was three, to escape Napoleonic invasion. There he took lessons from Goethe's much admired Zelter, who introduced him to the old poet in Weimar. The choice of a career in music was eventually decided on the advice of Cherubini, consulted by Abraham Mendelssohn in Paris, where he was director of the Conservatoire. There followed a period of further education, a Grand Tour of Europe that took him south to Italy and north to Scotland. His professional career began in earnest with his appointment as general director of music in Düsseldorf in 1833.

Mendelssohn's subsequent career was intense and brief. He settled in Leipzig as conductor of the Gewandhaus concerts, and was instrumental in establishing the Conservatory there. Briefly lured to Berlin by the King of Prussia and by the importunity of his family, he spent an unsatisfactory year or so as director of the music section of the Academy of Arts, providing music for a revival of classical drama under royal encouragement. This appointment he was glad to relinquish in 1844, later returning to his old position in Leipzig, where he died in 1847.

As a boy Mendelssohn had tried his hand at the composition of concertos for one or two pianos, and had also written a concerto for piano and violin. In maturity he was to write two piano concertos, the first of which, in G minor, was composed hurriedly, as he made his way back from Italy, and written down three days before the first performance, on 17th October 1832 in Munich, with the composer as soloist.

The G Minor Concerto is unusual in a number of ways. In particular Mendelssohn dispenses with the customary orchestral exposition, as he was to do in the later Violin Concerto, allowing the orchestra a mere seven bars of introduction, before the brilliant intervention of the soloist. The stormy first theme leads to a second subject that is gentler in character, experimenting in the use of less usual keys. The central development section of the movement is followed by the briefest of recapitulations, ending in a fanfare, before the pianist leads the way into the E major slow movement, which might almost be an orchestrated Song without Words. The trumpets and French horns herald the start of the last movement, with its reminiscences of the first, its lightness of touch and brilliance, and concluding operatic panache.

The Piano Concerto in D Minor was written for performance at the Birmingham Festival of 1837, where Mendelssohn won further success as pianist, organist, conductor and composer, with the oratorio St. Paul. The writing of the concerto coincided with his honeymoon and it was with some irritation that he found himself obliged to travel to London and to Birmingham, the city for which he was to write the Lobgesang and the oratorio Elijah.

The concerto opens again with the briefest of orchestral introductions, allowing the soloist to make an immediate impression with a dramatic opening passage. The second subject is introduced by the piano, making its way to the expected key of F major. It is the soloist who leads to the B flat major slow movement, where the first theme is entrusted to the orchestra, to be capped by the soloist with material of a more rhapsodic kind. The last movement, as economically scored as the rest of the work, allows the soloist a display of delicate brilliance in music that is thoroughly characteristic of the composer.

Some have dated Mendelssohn's B minor Capriccio Brillant to 1825 or 1826, the year of his A Midsummer Night's Dream Overture. What is certain is that it was performed during his second stay in London, in 1832. It is unusual as a single movement piece for solo piano and orchestra, no mere sketch for a future concerto. A slow introduction leads to an Allegro con fuoco, including in its course a march worthy of the Italian pilgrims of the Italian Symphony. The Rondo Brillant is dated 29th January 1834, after a busy year that had taken him twice to London and brought a removal from Berlin to Düsseldorf, as director of the Lower Rhine Festival. The Rondo lives up to its name in form and the descriptive adjective of its title in its brilliance, making no pretence of profundity in a sparkling display.

Benjamin Frith
The young British pianist Benjamin Frith has had a distinguished career. A pupil of Fanny Waterman, he won, at the age of fourteen, the British National Concerto Competition, followed by the award of the Mozart Memorial Prize and joint top prize in 1986 in the Italian Busoni International Piano Competition and in 1989 a Gold Medal and First prize in the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Master Competition. Benjamin Frith enjoys a busy international career, with engagements in the United States and throughout Europe as a soloist and recitalist, with festival appearances at Sheffield, Aldeburgh, Harrogate, Kuhmo, Bolzano, Savannah, Pasadena and Hong Kong and an Edinburgh Festival début in 1992. His recordings include a highly praised performance of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations on the ASV label and for Naxos a release of piano music by Schumann, followed by the two Mendelssohn Piano Concertos and the Third Piano Concertoof Rachmaninov.

Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra (Košice)
The East Slovakian town of Košice boasts a long and distinguished musical tradition, as part of a province that once provided Vienna with musicians. The State Philharmonic Orchestra is of relatively recent origin and was established in 1968 under the conductor Bystrik Rezucha. Subsequent principal conductors have included Stanislav Macura and Ladislav Slovak, the latter succeeded in 1985 by his pupil Richard Zimmer. The orchestra has toured widely in Eastern and Western Europe and plays an important part in the Košice Musical Spring and the Košice International Organ Festival.

For Marco Polo the orchestra has made the first compact disc recordings of rare works by Granville Bantock and Joachim Raff. Writing on the last of these, one critic praised the orchestra for its competence comparable to that of the major orchestras of Vienna and Prague. The orchestra has contributed many successful volumes to the complete compact disc Johann Strauss II and for Naxos has recorded a varied repertoire.

Robert Stankovsky
Robert Stankovsky was born in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, in 1964, and after a childhood spent in the study of the piano, recorder, oboe and clarinet, turned his attention, at the age of fourteen, to conducting, graduating in this and in piano at the Bratislava Conservatory with the title of best graduate of the year. Stankovsky is regarded as one of the best conductors of the younger generation in Czecho-Slovakia. For Marco Polo Stankovsky has recorded symphonies by Rubinstein and Miaskovsky in addition to orchestral works by Dvorák and Smetana.

Close the window