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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, No.1 in G minor, Op.25 (1832) [18:25]
Serenade and Allegro Giocoso in B minor, Op.43 (1838) [12:32]
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, No.2 in D minor, Op.40 (1837) [21:57]
Rondo Brilliant in E flat major, Op.29 (1834) [10:26]
Capriccio Brilliant in B minor, Op.22 (1826) [10:55]
Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra in A minor (1822) [34:44]
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, No.3 in E minor (1844) [22:45]
Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orchestra in A flat major (1822/24) [41:24]
Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orchestra in E major (1822/24) [32:19]
Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra in D minor (1823) [38:16]
Oleg Marshev (piano)
Anne Mette Staehr (piano) Rumen Lukanov (violin, CD4)
South Denmark Philharmonic/David Porcelijn
rec. Alsion, Sonderborg, Denmark, 8-13 August 2011, 7-12, 14-18 May 2012
DANACORD DACOCD734-736 [4 CDs: 75:06 + 57:41 + 73:54 + 38:16]

The first CD in this boxed set has all the well-known works. I do not intend to major on the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 1 in G minor or No.2 in D minor save to say that both works are played with skill and great attention to the contrasting moods. Brilliant piano writing is presented in the fast movements whilst the slow movements are well-played 'songs without words'. Most commentators would express a preference for the 1st Concerto, both in terms of technical achievement, structural cohesion and inspiration.

The Rondo Brilliant in E flat major (1834) is really a showpiece for the pianist. Hinson (Music for Piano and Orchestra, 1993) notes the 'dazzling staccato octaves' and the multitude of broken chords. This is a charming, work that displays an 'easy-going lyricism' and 'feel-good factor' in the exposition of the main rondo theme and the colourful episodes. The same adjectives can be applied to the Capriccio Brilliant in B minor dating from six years earlier. This Weberian piece opens with a thoughtful slow section before becoming vivacious. The somewhat banal second theme of the allegro has been noted by commentators, but overall this is an attractive little work that shows off the pianist's skill.

The Serenade and Allegro Giocoso is a clever little piece that balances an opening dialogue between pianist and orchestra with a bubbly allegro: Radcliffe (The Master Musicians, 1954, 1990) has characterised this as 'well-behaved and genteel hilarity'.

CD 2 presents two concertos. The first is an early effort for Piano and String Orchestra composed in 1822. The second is a reconstruction of Mendelssohn's Concerto for Piano in E minor (No.3). The former is an attractive work that owes much to Hummel (1778-1837) and possibly Weber (1786-1826). It is technically brilliant and displays youthful confidence. It is quite a long work at some 34 minutes. It can be regarded as Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No.0.

The later work was left unfinished. In fact, the liner-notes suggest that in many places it was barely begun. The opening of the first movement was sketched in full: the rest of the allegro and the andante have only the solo piano part extant. Brief drafts of the finale also exist. The work was realised by Marcello Bufalini in 2006. The liner-notes allude to the potential problem of the concerto being more Bufalini than Mendelssohn. Yet, clearly great scholarship has been brought to bear on these surviving sketches. I feel that the work does fit in with the trajectory of Mendelssohn's numbered piano concertos, in spite of darker tones and a more reflective pianism. Oleg Marshev certainly makes of this reconstructed work an excellent promotional job. I can only find reference to two other versions of this work in the CD catalogue: Roberto Prosseda with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly and Jennifer Eley and the English Chamber Orchestra/Sayard Stone.

The third CD is devoted to the two double concertos - in A flat major and E major. Both were composed when Mendelssohn was around fourteen. Hinson has noted that these concertos display all the hallmarks of the Romantic style. In spite of their sound-world these two works are largely classical in form. Both are full of energy, sparkle and sheer joy of living. Where the mood becomes a little more reflective, Mendelssohn is perfectly capable of providing a deeply thoughtful 'adagio' or 'andante'. The balance between poetry and virtuosic statements is perfectly maintained. Philip Radcliffe is a little less than generous when he suggests that 'they do not approach in imaginativeness such works as the Rondo Capriccioso or the Capriccio in F sharp minor . they contain some agreeable music.' Rob Barnett notes that these are 'loquacious' concertos, and if by that he means slightly long-winded, then I tend to agree. However, I believe that these two works have a degree of subtlety and interest that will impress any listener who is prepared to give them time to work their magic.

The bonus disc contains just one work: the Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra in D minor (1823) which was written when the composer was fourteen years old. It is a big, confident work that explores a genuinely romantic world. The first movement allegro begins with a strong orchestral introduction before the soloists join in with a 'classical double exposition.' The 'adagio' is surprisingly warm and reflective for such a youthful effort. The concluding 'allegro molto' is effectively a rondo: it begins with a brisk piano solo, before being joined by the violinist. The episodes are interesting and often intricate in their execution. It is an exciting and lively conclusion to this little-known but ultimately enjoyable and effective work.

Rob Barnett has noted that Oleg Marshev is 'inseparable' from Danacord. The Russian-born pianist has certainly made a huge contribution to their catalogue. This includes cycles of the complete piano concertos and concerted music by Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Schumann. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reviewing the Chopin cycle (DACOCOD 701-702). I have noted before that Marshev is not a name that is well-known in the United Kingdom. A brief glance at the background notes in the present release reveal an extremely busy international soloist appearing in the Far East, the Americas and throughout Europe. He also is engaged in a professorship at the Anton Bruckner University in Linz, Austria.

Listeners must not forget the important contribution to this present collection by the Danish pianist Anne Mette Staehr who trained at the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen. She devotes much time to chamber music and the recital room. In 1999 she made a definitive recording of the collected piano works of Sofia Gubaidulina.

The Bulgarian Rumen Lukanov is the excellent violinist in the double concerto on the bonus disc. He is now concertmaster of the South Denmark Philharmonic.

The notes by Colin Anderson are the one problem with this CD: I needed a magnifying glass to read the minuscule double column print. Additionally I felt that a more little information could have been given about each of these works: what is presented is useful and to the point.

Oleg Marshev and the other performers have excelled themselves in this set of Mendelssohn's works for piano and orchestra. The wide parameters of style call for an understanding of classical poise through to a strong bravura technique with demanding use of octaves, staccato chords, restrained 'songs without words' and complex arpeggios. Marshev takes all these technical devices in his stride: the interpretation of these works are beyond reproach and are totally satisfying.

I guess that this collection will be of more interest to Mendelssohn specialists rather than the general listener. Most people will be satisfied with having the two well-known numbered concertos. However, it is important to be able to put these two great works into the context of the composer's entire achievement for the genre. This recording is an ideal introduction to this important part of Mendelssohn's achievement.

John France

Previous review: Rob Barnett