MENDELSSOHN Piano Concertos (Lisiecki)
This is the third account I’ve had of Mendelssohn’s concertos in as many months and, from the off, the young Canadian Jan Lisiecki sparkles and shines, bringing to the opening movement of the G minor First Concerto an effortless rapport with the Orpheus CO players, with none of the over-accentuation that distracted me in Roberto Prosseda’s account. The chamber-like sonorities and intricate interplay – surely the result of this being a conductor-less ensemble – are an endless delight: sample from 4'09" of track 1 for a taster. The small forces also ensure that there’s an airborne quality in the fast movements, while the concerto’s Andante is very intimate in effect. I had reservations here about both Brautigam (somewhat unpoetic) and Prosseda (too slow) but Lisiecki gets it just right, colouring and shading the line with great tenderness. And the finale, announced by fanfares from the Orpheus’s splendidly coloured horns and trumpets, finds Lisiecki conveying a real sense of the dance that is infectious indeed.
In the D minor Second Concerto’s Allegro appassionato Lisiecki and the Orpheus offer a lean-toned, high-energy account that is again very telling. But it is the Adagio that is particularly fine here, filled with a sense of confiding that again comes from relatively small forces. Every detail has been considered, from Lisiecki’s poetic opening phrase to the answering strings, who cushion the music in a warm chorale-like sonority. I find their tempo more convincing than the otherwise compelling Hough, who seems too fast for an Adagio. And the finale in this new account, if not quite having the array of colours that the Cologne Academy offer Brautigam, has a real one-in-a-bar energy to it that is irresistible.
The solo pieces generally work very well too – though I did find Lisiecki slightly over-fussy in his shaping of the theme that launches the Variations sérieuses. But any doubt here is overcome by the lithe brilliance of what follows: even the most technically demanding variations (such as Var 12, which can sound overly hammered in some readings) are given with a commanding ease. I was slightly underwhelmed by his Rondo capriccioso, where he was a little too mannered for my taste (here Perahia is by turns entirely songful and thrillingly airborne – Sony, 5/85). But the ‘Venetian Gondola Song’ from the Songs Without Words is beautiful indeed, concluding a delightful disc.