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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Piano Concerto no.1 in G minor, Op.25 [20:06]
Piano Concerto no.2 in D minor, Op.40 [22:55]
Variations serieuses, Op.54 [11:48]
Rondo capriccioso in E major, Op.14 [7:08]
Songs without Words (Lieder ohne Worte): Book 1, Op.19b, no.6 in G minor 'Venetianisches Gondellied' (Venetian Boat Song) [1:58]
Jan Lisiecki (piano)
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
rec. 2018, Teatr Wielki, Warsaw (concertos); Polskie Radio, Studio 2, Warsaw

The Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, still only in his mid-twenties, has already amassed a much praised discography on the DG label featuring music by Mozart, Chopin and Schumann. I've been fortunate to hear the Mozart disc of two concertos, conducted by Christian Zacharias, and the album of Schumann works for piano and orchestra in which he is partnered by the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and Sir Antonio Pappano. What’s impressed me is his extraordinary interpretative flair coupled with an authoritative technique and a wonderful sense of fantasy. In this latest release, the young pianist turns his hand to Felix Mendelssohn offering the two piano concertos and some solo items.

In the two concertos, Lisiecki is supported by the scaled down forces of the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. I have to admit that up until now I've never been all that keen on these works, which have taken something of a backseat amongst the concerto repertoire, the Second Concerto more so than the First. Having listened to them several times over the last week I'm certainly warming to them. There's no doubt that they reveal some very accomplished and resourceful keyboard writing. In the First Concerto, the tempi of outer movements is pretty brisk and the music is kept light and airy. One advantage of the smaller chamber ensemble is that Mendelssohn's imaginative woodwind writing is strikingly profiled. An air of tenderness and tranquillity hovers over the magical Andante, enhanced by Lisiecki's poetic phrasing. The Second Concerto is a more serious affair. I knew it even less, but now consider it both attractive and rewarding. The opening movement showcases the pianist’s pristine finger work with Lisiecki providing welcome light and shade with some deft pedalling. A rhythmically propulsive finale follows an eloquent Adagio. In both concertos, the piano is perfectly balanced in the sound picture.

Paul Badura-Skoda best sums up for me the Variations sÚrieuses, Op. 54, when he says that they "are not only ‘serious’, they are tragic : a suffering man lays his soul bare". They consist of a theme in D minor and 17 variations. Lisiecki follows in the footsteps of Richter and Brendel with a performance that traverses a wide spectrum of emotions from elegance and vitality to fragility and tempestuousness. The Rondo Capriccioso in E Major for solo piano, Op.14 is in two sections The Andante is eloquently moulded by Lisiecki, with the Presto having all the lightness, buoyancy and fervour of the Overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream. The Venetion Boat Song from the Songs without Words provides a delightfully attractive encore.

This is a recording I'll be returning to often - pianism at its very best.

Stephen Greenbank

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