MENDELSSOHN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25; Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 40; Symphony No. 5 in D Major, Op. 107 “Reformation” – Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec/Louis Lortie, piano and conductor – Atma ACD2 2617, 67:20 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Canadian pianist-conductor offers an homage to the late Guy Duhamel (1958-2009) with this all-Mendelssohn disc, recorded at the Salle Raoul-Jobin du Palais Montcalm, Quebec, 27-28 April 2009.
The fleet and gossamer concertos of Mendelssohn have captured my fancy ever since I encountered them via Rudolf Serkin. Lortie provides a softer patina than does Serkin, eliciting as well from his cello section some serene harmonies in the second movement in E Major from the G Minor Concerto. The lithe filigree provides a charming vehicle for Lortie’s own magic, his capacity to render “songs without words” throughout Mendelssohn’s facile score. The G Major finale certainly harkens to Carl Maria von Weber’s “konzertstueck” pieces, all brilliant and explosive fioritura and pomposo heraldry, but rather light on musical content.
The 1837 D Minor Concerto offers more serious tissue at first–even moments of well-wrought polyphony–though it, too, will devolve into musical mischief at the finale, another scherzando in the spirit of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Lortie, nevertheless, delivers a plastic marvelously lucid account of this concerto as well, especially in the opening movement’s second subject. A wild coda and sweet segue, and we enter the B-flat Major Adagio, a lovely, even ravishing, nocturne in lulling colors.
The 1830 Reformation Symphony celebrates the 300th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Confession of Augsbourg and utilizes the excerpt from Psalm 46 known as A Mighty Fortress is Our God. An intense exercise in polyphony, the symphony conveys an austerity that influenced Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony. Lortie takes the first movement rather quickly, no dawdling with sentiment. The speed of articulation for the D Minor development does not daunt his youthful ensemble, who vault through the titanic gestures with fierce aplomb. Still, the so-called “Dresden Amen”–which appears in various guises in succeeding movements–retains its solemn dignity. A breezy Scherzo and Trio, with fleet work from the Quebec brass and woodwinds. Strings alone first intone the G Minor Andante, then the flute, winds, and tympani add their plangent support. The flute announces the Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott motif, and away we go, in Lortie’s lustrous rendition of the music’s equally martial and devout fervors. Lovely, on its own terms.