Felix Mendelssohn: Concertos for two pianos n° 1 in E Major & n° 2 in A-flat Major
Joshua Pierce & Dorothy Jonas (Piano), Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra, Bystrìk Rezucha
Recording: House of Art, Kosice, Slovakia (October 26-27, 1995 and November 1-2, 1995) – 70’27
MSR Classics #MS 1330 – Booklet in English
The Latin term felix, translating as “happy”, was a most propitious first name given to Abraham and Lea Mendelssohns’ second child. Having been surrounded by fine arts while growing up would only enhance the musical juices flowing inside the head of Felix Mendelssohn.
Felix Mendelssohn’s quotation, “The essence of the beautiful is unity in variety”, is something we should bear in mind while listening to these two structurally similar and marvelous pieces. The Concerto no º 1 in E Major and the Concerto no º 2 in A-flat Major were composed by the prodigious youth at the age of 14 and 15, respectively. Both passages are teeming with a great sense of organization but lightened with capricious delectation.
Performing this pairing is no small feat. For 20 years Joshua Pierce and Dorothy Jonas have canvassed composers’ works that feature a set of keyboards, and the range of styles and flavor is varied. Bystrìk Rezucha somersaults through this electrifying music that brings reconfirmation of Mendelssohn’s genius.
The first selection begins with the relevant outcomes of the Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra which entrées into the two pianos. Reminiscent of Beethoven and to some degree Mozart, the capitulations are superb and polished. The middle movement “Adagio non troppo – Più mosso” gives the listener a breather from the intensity of the opening segment with an initial hymn-like harmony fed from the orchestra. The spotlight soon turns to the piano with Pierce’s and Jonas’ thoughtful reflections and stately, effervescent scales; trills are acute and pleasing. After this respite, Mendelssohn returns to a racier cadence in the “Allegro – Con fuoco” setting the piece ablaze; the final portion has Pierce and Jonas playing scherzando staccatos with snappy accuracy.
Two allegro portions bracket the interior “Andante” in Mendelssohn’s Concerto n° 2. The opening performance on November 12, 1824, featuring Mendelssohn himself along with teacher Ignaz Moscheles must have been a sight to behold. An emphatic three note reminder anticipates Mendelssohn’s creation two years later in the “Scherzo” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Returning to the composition’s theme, Pierce and Jonas argue a grand musical case in the “Allegro vivace – Più presto” by consistently building anticipation until the movement’s final, yet sudden climax.
As in the previous concerto, the Concerto n° 2 invokes religious overtones, pleasing to the ear with copious legatos. Both keyboardists use rinforzando notes to convey the softer side of the piece. The “Allegro vivace - Più presto” winds up in an occasionally interrupted gallop, enabling the artists an opportunity to similarly (ref: the second movement of Concerto n° 1) pause for a moment before settling into a rollicking departure. This ultimately summarizes Felix Mendelssohn’s unbridled happiness.
Rezucha’s sufficient tempo allows Pierce and Jonas room for fingering the dexterous demands without creating sloppiness. Paraphrasing the earlier Mendelssohn quip, these creations have indelible, likeable variations within a unified tonal scope.