Ragna Schirmer / Gunther Herbig

Felix Mendelssohn: Piano Concertos

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Well-written but not quite inspired music, meet well-executed but not quite inspiring performances. In the early romantic piano concerto popularity contest, Mendelssohn's two piano concertos have not attained the status of Chopin, Schumann, or Liszt. Part of the reason is the conservativism of his language and the rest is temperature of his emotions. Mendelssohn achieves all he sets out to achieve in his piano concertos with strong gestures in solid forms expressed with breathtaking virtuosity. But Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt achieve those things and more: they achieve that ineffable quality of greatness. There have been a handful of excellent and even exciting recordings of Mendelssohn's concertos in the past with Rudolf Serkin's rip-snorting readings on Columbia topping the list. But while these 2006 recordings with young German pianist Ragna Schirmer and Günther Herbig leading the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken are often quite fine, they fail to attain excellent. Schirmer has an agile technique, a clean attack, a crisp tone, a sprightly sense of rhythm, and a winning way with phrasing a melody. But she makes nothing more of the music than what is on the page. And while what's on the page can sometimes amount to an enormous number of notes, as in the Presto scherzando concluding the second concerto, Schirmer, like the music, never quite catches fire. Herbig is reliable as always and the Saarbrücken orchestra plays with style and strength, though together they add no more to the performance than support for the soloist. The disc includes both concertos plus the Capriccio brilliant in B minor and the Rondo brilliant in E flat major as well as the rarely recorded Serenade und Allegro giocoso in B minor. Berlin Classics' sound is close, bright, and direct.

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