I am a big fan of Felix Mendelssohn, who I consider to be one of the most underrated composers of the Romantic period.
Mendelssohn’s critics sometimes call the music “too simple”, “just beautiful”, “no depth”. However, I really disagree. There is much more to Mendelssohn than just superficial beauty.
I just love his Lieder ohne Worte (songs without words), take for example the beautiful recordings by Ronald Brautigam or by Javier Perianes, his symphonies, particularly the good old classics of the Scottish and the Italian, or many others of his solo piano works.
However, his piano concertos were underrepresented even in my typical listening. Of course, I have the reference recordings with Andras Schiff and Murray Perahia, but don’t go back to them as often as I should.
Therefore, I was very happy to see that they were released twice in new excellent recordings over the last months, by above mentioned Brautigam (more about this in a later post), and most recently by young Polish/Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, who I already had the pleasure to see live.
Jan Lisiecki Plays Mendelssohn (Deutsche Grammophon 2019)
Lisiecki plays here with the excellent Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, an American orchestra that always plays without a conductor.
Leif Ove Andsnes took a similar approach with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, some years ago, and I really was suprised how well this can work.
You really don’t miss a conductor here either, the musicians and the soloists really listen to eachother, and are as integrated as they possibly could be.
Both Lisiecki and the Orpheus take relatively swift tempi, and really give the music the emotional pleasure you just need to have when listening to these works. They may not have the depth of a Beethoven or a Brahms, but they are oh so enjoyable!
Futhermore, Lisiecki also attacks some of Mendelssohn’s works for solo piano, notably the Variations sérieuses and the Rondo capriccioso. As a kind of encore we get also one of the Lieder ohne Worte.
These solo works are also very well played, although sometimes I feel Lisiecki’s touch could have been a tad lighter. But this is complaining at a very high level.
Overall, this is a very welcome addition to the Mendelssohn discography and I can thoroughly recommend buying this album!
My rating: 4 stars
UPDATE March 24: Gramophone agrees, calling this album “delightful”, giving it an “Editor’s Choice” in their April 2019 issue.
UPDATE March 30, 2019: Classica likes this a lot as well giving it 5 stars.