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Mendelssohn: Piano Concertos No 1 & 2 / Gunzenhauser, Han, Israel Co

Release Date: 02/10/2009 
Label:  Brilliant Classics   Catalog #: 93279   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Derek Han
Conductor:  Stephen Gunzenhauser
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Israel Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MENDELSSOHN Piano Concertos: No. 1 in g; No. 2 in d. Capriccio brillante in b Derek Han (pn); Stephen Gunzenhauser, cond; Israel CO BRILLIANT 93279 (51:23)

This year is the 200th anniversary of Felix Mendelssohn’s birth: February 3, 1809, in Hamburg. As a result, we are all being, and for a while will continue to be, surrounded in sound by Mendelssohn’s music, There are few better fates, and musically so many that are worse.

This disc Read more shortchanges the purchaser by almost 30 minutes—not a financial loss but rather a loss of more time under the spell of good musicianship. Derek Han is a well-seasoned American pianist who should, based on this CD, be more widely appreciated than he has thus far been. A graduate of Juilliard at 18, he later studied with Gina Bachauer, Lili Kraus, and Guido Agosti. American conductor Stephen Gunzenhauser started his musical education at New York City’s High School of Music and Art (as did, for example, pianist Murray Perahia and harpsichordist Igor Kipnis), continued at Oberlin College, the New England Conservatory of Music, and the Salzburg Mozarteum. Gunzenhauser is conductor and music director of both the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and the Lancaster Symphony in Pennsylvania. The Israel Chamber Orchestra (formerly the Israel Chamber Ensemble) was founded in 1965 by conductor Gary Bertini. Orchestra members include many recent immigrants, particularly from the old U.S.S.R. and from the United States.

Things go very well here: the soloist’s playing, the conducting, the chamber orchestra’s playing, and especially the works, which are among the most attractive of Mendelssohn’s compositions. To quote from my review of these concertos in 31:4, “Here is Mendelssohn for piano and orchestra, not introspective and not philosophical but gloriously musical and suitably succinct without any of the interposing of unnecessary fluff found in so much ‘romantic’ music.” In that review of performances by pianist Ragna Schirmer and conductor Günther Herbig, I found much to praise, just as I found in the current performances. But Schirmer and Herbig fill their disc with more Mendelssohn piano and orchestra pieces than just the Capriccio . This makes for a more complete traversal of the composer’s works in this form. On the other hand, I prefer Han’s more forceful approach to Schirmer’s more songful approach. However, from each of these discs one gets a different view of Mendelssohn, each of which should be part of any listener’s Mendelssohn experience.

Ultimately, any choice faces Rudolf Serkin’s classic offering, about which I quote from my 31:4 review: “These concertos are available on a CD with pianist Rudolf Serkin and the Philadelphia Orchestra (for the G Minor) and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (for the D Minor) under conductor Eugene Ormandy.” The Philadelphia Orchestra under Ormandy leaves the excellent Israel Chamber Orchestra behind in terms of silken string sound and smooth woodwinds. “And Serkin’s phrase shaping, articulation, and dynamics allow the music to speak to the listener” in a way that transcends Han’s excellent efforts. “But for those who don’t care for Serkin’s tendency to have a ‘heavy-handed’ touch,” Han would probably be preferable.

Han and Gunzenhauser have produced a Mendelssohn disc worth having. But also get the Serkin/Ormandy disc (Sony 89842) if you don’t already have it; it’s cheap (about seven bucks), and you get Isaac Stern and Eugene Ormandy in an exemplary performance of the Violin Concerto as well.

FANFARE: Burton Rothleder
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 1 in G minor, Op. 25 by Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Derek Han (Piano)
Conductor:  Stephen Gunzenhauser
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Israel Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1831; Germany 
Concerto for Piano no 2 in D minor, Op. 40 by Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Derek Han (Piano)
Conductor:  Stephen Gunzenhauser
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Israel Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1837; Germany 

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