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ClassicsOnline Home » 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
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
The East Slovakian town of Koice
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 Koice Musical Spring and the
Koice 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 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.
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