The opening solo of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto gives food for thought. Min-Jung Kym phrases it exquisitely – might she treat every theme in this way and, if so, could such attention perhaps impede the music’s progress? I need not have worried; this is an unhurried, richly expressive interpretation the eloquent nature of which is matched by the Philharmonia Orchestra. Excellent detail ensures clarity of each melodic line and there is a particularly natural sound to the bass – of particular advantage in the Andante con moto with its meaningful pizzicatos. The warm strength of this movement is particularly apt after the expansive view taken of the opening one. Nothing is hurried – not even piano flourishes which blossom calmly in reply to the forceful strings. Despite the instruction Segue il Rondo, the Finale enters after a longer-than-usual pause; yet, allowing for the ritardando at the end of the slow movement, there is still rhythmic continuity. How graciously Kym expounds the main melody, giving it a lovely arching contour. It is also appropriate that the orchestra remains robust; certainly there is delicacy in this reading but trumpets and drums assist in making suitably powerful responses to the pianist’s sweeping phrases.
Mendelssohn’s early works are not given the attention they deserve. Albeit only for strings, there are twelve Symphonies prior to the work we know as No.1 (which the composer referred to as XIII) written between the ages of twelve and fourteen but they are played only occasionally; even No.8, which the composer rescored for full orchestra, is very rarely aired. The Double Concerto was also composed during this period yet its opening sounds very mature – urgent and serious at first with two subsidiary melodies and a return to the first theme before the soloists enter. This is symphonic writing taken successively by piano and violin. Embellishment of each idea – and there are many – is often followed by one or other of the soloists brightening the idea with a flurry of rapid notes – a pleasing Mendelssohnian trait. This is an extensive movement – the length of the other two put together but not for a moment is there any hint of longueur. The positive nature of the playing continues in the soulful Adagio, the greater part being an extended duet. The Allegro molto Finale is typical of Mendelssohn’s treatment of minor-keyed music – fiery, urgent and exhilarating – the dash of the ‘Italian’ Symphony is anticipated. The brilliance of the soloists’ playing is always evident as they sweep along within the exciting orchestral contributions. This is skilled writing for an unusual combination of instruments such as a mature composer might conceive, yet this is the work of a fourteen-year-old.