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Monday, March 13, 2017

Felix Mendelssohn; Max Bruch - Concertos for 2 Pianos and Orchestra (Katia & Marielle Labèque)


Composer: Felix Mendelssohn; Max Bruch
  1. Mendelssohn - Concerto for 2 pianos & orchestra in E major: 1. Allegro Vivace
  2. Mendelssohn - Concerto for 2 pianos & orchestra in E major: 2. Adagio non troppo
  3. Mendelssohn - Concerto for 2 pianos & orchestra in E major: 3. Allegro
  4. Bruch - Concerto for 2 pianos & orchestra in A-flat minor, Op. 88a: 1. Andante sostenuto
  5. Bruch - Concerto for 2 pianos & orchestra in A-flat minor, Op. 88a: 2. Andante con moto - Allegro molto vivace
  6. Bruch - Concerto for 2 pianos & orchestra in A-flat minor, Op. 88a: 3. Adagio ma non troppo
  7. Bruch - Concerto for 2 pianos & orchestra in A-flat minor, Op. 88a: 4. Andante - Allegro

Katia Labèque, piano
Marielle Labèque, piano
Philharmonia Orchestra
Semyon Bychkov, conductor

Date: 1990
Label: Philips



Bruch's Double Piano Concerto will probably confound your expectations. It starts in an uncompromisingly solemn mood: dark, thick-textured and fugal, and with more than a suggestion of Busoni trailing in its wake. The second movement is healthily energetic, while the melodic richness and full-throated romanticism of the Adagio are fairly typical of the Max Bruch we all know and love so well. But, appealing though it is, Bruch's Op. 88a has had an amazingly chequered history. The work started life as a Suite for organ and orchestra, and was subsequently transcribed by Bruch himself for two of his students, who, while touting it around America, proceeded to re-fashion and simplify it, ultimately claiming it as an original piece written especially for them. The Concerto lay in total obscurity for a number of years, until Nathan Twining and Martin Berkofsky located and reconstructed Bruch's original. Since then (and that was by no means the end of editorial complications), it has gained admirers and revealed itself as an appealing addition to the slender two-piano concerto repertory.

In 1989, Claire and Antoinette Cann gave the work its British premiere, and this is its second recording (the first was by Berkofsky and Hagan with the Berlin SO under Herbig––Vox Turnabout (CD) 0012). The Labeques indulge both its burgeoning romanticism and its considerable virtuoso demands, while Bychkov directs a big, warm-textured accompaniment. The recording was made three years ago in London's Henry Wood Hall and sounds rather cramped––a fault due in part at least to Bruch's thickset orchestration.

Mendelssohn's E major Double Piano Concerto (another work that had to wait years for publication) is one of a pair that he composed during his early teens. It's far more transparent than the Bruch and presumably posed Philips's engineers fewer problems. Here Beethoven was an obvious model (his Emperor Concerto in particular), but the music is quintessentially Mendelssohnian none the less, with an abundance of sunny melodies and much dexterous solo writing. Although a lighter touch might have raised more of a smile, the Labeques never stint on brilliance and the Philharmonia is on good form. The recording copes fairly well and, taken as a whole, this CD provides an engaging introduction to some attractive but little-known repertory.

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / SOUND: *****


Felix Mendelssohn (3 February 1809 – 4 November 1847) was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. He was among the most popular composers of the Romantic era. Like Mozart, he was recognized early as a musical prodigy. Mendelssohn enjoyed early success in Germany, where he also revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and in his travels throughout Europe. He was particularly well received in Britain as a composer, conductor and soloist, visited there ten times. His essentially conservative musical tastes, however, set him apart from many of his more adventurous musical contemporaries.


Max Bruch (6 January 1838 – 2 October 1920) was a German Romantic composer and conductor. He is best known for his first violin concerto, which is a staple of the violin repertory.His complex and unfailingly well-structured works, in the German Romantic musical tradition, placed him in the camp of Romantic classicism exemplified by Johannes Brahms, rather than the opposing "New Music" of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. In his time he was known primarily as a choral composer.


The Labèque sisters, Katia (born 11 March 1950) and Marielle (born 6 March 1952), are an internationally known French piano duo. Upon graduation in piano from the Conservatoire de Paris in 1968, the two began working on piano four hands and two pianos repertoire. Between 1970 and 1997, they recorded many albums for Erato, Philips, EMI, Sony, and Decca. In 2016 they joined the Deutsche Grammophon record label for the distribution of their record label KML Recordings.


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