Friday, January 30, 2015

Felix Mendelssohn: Concertos

No. 183 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

To conclude our Mad for Mendelssohn series of podcasts, we will take a look at Mendelssohn’s concertos.

According to Robert Poliquin’s Mendelssohn’s works page, Felix Mendelssohn composed eight concertos, for solo piano, violin and combinations thereof. In addition to the E Minor violin concerto (featured in a recent Tuesday Blog), we can add the two piano concertos (opp. 25 and 40) as part of the “mature” works in the genre by Mendelssohn. There are, however, at least five concertos composed in 1823 and 1824, and three of those are for two soloists: his concerto for piano and violin (featured in a 2012 podcast that I plan to bring back as part of our “Double, Double” series next month) and two concertos for two pianos, in addition to a pair of concertos for solo piano and solo violin.. All these concertos were composed around the same time he penned his twelve string symphonies.

The violin concerto in D Minor from 1823 is probably the best-known of the “early” Mendelssohn concertos. Mendelssohn wrote this violin concerto for Eduard Rietz, a friend and teacher who later served as concertmaster for Mendelssohn's legendary performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's St Matthew Passion, which has been thought to have resurrected Bach in the public image. Eclipsed by the more famous E Minor concerto, the work was long forgotten until Yehudi Menuhin was shown the manuscript of the concerto in the spring of 1951 by Albi Rosenthal, an amateur violinist and rare books dealer. Menuhin instantly developed an interest in the concerto and bought the rights to it from members of the Mendelssohn family residing in Switzerland. Menuhin edited the concerto for performance and had it published.

On 4 February 1952, Menuhin introduced the concerto to a Carnegie Hall audience with a "string Band", conducting the concerto from the violin – this was the first time Menuhin had directed an orchestra in New York.

The violin concerto is performed on our podcast by German violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann.

It is at age 23 that the “mature” Mendelssohn write his op. 25  piano concerto, a good decade after his early attempts discussed earlier. He had reservations about his ability to produce a concerto that was more than just pyrotechnic bravura. Indeed, the first concerto is filled with Mendelssohn's trademark mercurial filigree and brisk, busy passages, but he also achieves a wonderful sense of stillness and serenity in the central Andante that contrasts beautifully with the outer movements. The Second Concerto came about some five years later and already Mendelssohn's growth as a composer can be heard with the concerto's more serious, refined, and less showy nature.

The performances I retained for the podcast feature the Korean-Canadian pianist Lucille Chung in a Radio-Canada/Richelieu recording from 2000 which was nominated for a local Quebec Classical Music award (Prix Opus). 

I think you will love this music too!

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