Piano Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.25*
Piano Concerto No.2 in D minor, Op.40*
Variations serieuses, Op.54
Rondo capriccioso, Op.14
Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
*Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Herbert Blomstedt
Reviewed by: Ying Chang
Reviewed: January 2002
CD No: DECCA 468 600-2
It was Ludwig Wittgenstein, legendary philosopher and brother of left-handed pianist Paul, who said: “Brahms is Mendelssohn without the mistakes”. Here are performances that play Mendelssohn as if he were Brahms, ones that takes the “serious” in Variations far more to heart than the “capricious” in Rondo.
It’s clear that Thibaudet and Blomstedt wish to make a case for Mendelssohn as an intellectual, heroic composer. They may well be wrong. These are unsmiling performances with a hectoring manner. If you believe that the charm of Mendelssohn is in his lightness, in his unanalysed use of melody, this disc will disappoint you. Thibaudet’s piano-playing is rarely relaxed; the orchestra displays a puzzling lack of subtlety, the latter all the stranger given its long historical association with Mendelssohn’s music.
In the concertos, the slow movements – particularly that of the D minor – are the most successful, played with affectionate lyricism; however the first movements are relentlessly hard-driven, notable for rhythmic pulse rather than fantasy. In the finales, Thibaudet taxis around the runway but never takes off.
Though Thibaudet has no problem with the technical demands of the solo pieces, the Variations become portentous and the Rondo lacks the fleet lightness that its affinity with the scherzos of the Octet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream suggest.
In this repertoire, Murray Perahia remains pre-eminent.Whereas Brahms does well under florescent lighting – his denseness of texture and rhythmic complexity suffers no harm from meticulous investigation – Mendelssohn needs imagination and disguise, his figurations are a veil of suggestion. Perahia’s poetry achieves this; Thibaudet’s literalism does not. It is no coincidence that Thibaudet’s successful Schumann and Brahms CD (DECCA 444 338-2) couples two tightly constructed works – the former’s Etudes symphoniques and Brahms’s Paganini Variations.
For Mendelssohn the piano sound is full if balanced too close, bringing a hard edge to the tone in loud passages.
Sometimes French pianists playing German repertoire feel they need to be more German than the Germans. Helene Grimaud, whom I otherwise admire, is guilty of this. Thibaudet has fallen into the same trap.