Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
Rec. CBS Studios, London, 23-24 August 1974 (concertos); Vanguard Studios, New York, 24 November, 10 December 1981 (rest).
The concerto performances here have been available in a number of guises over the years, and have rarely been out of the catalogue. In their last incarnation they were coupled with the other items from Perahia's later, digital solo disc, namely the Variations serieuses, Op.54 and the famous Rondo Capriccioso, Op.14, as well as the Prelude and Fugue that's here again. The powers-that-be at Sony must have decided that the Piano Sonata represents better value, and it is certainly a very substantial piece, making a well-filled re-issue.
The concerto recordings are, as you would expect from these artists, full of the wit and warmth that good Mendelssohn playing needs. Outer movements sparkle and the slow movements sing. The drama and bravura of the G minor's opening allegro con fuoco are superbly realised by Perahia, and the famous andante lulls us like a restful romanza. The Weber-like brilliance of the finale shows just what a technician Perahia is, and Marriner matches him all the way.
The D minor concerto, written a few years later and again premiered by the composer, is a very similar beast structurally and stylistically. It has been said that these works 'play themselves', but when you hear the right artists making it sound easy, you know a great deal of thought and effort have gone in to make it sound this way. This concerto has not generally been as popular as the first, but it contains much lovely music, especially the scintillating finale where Perahia revels in the intricate passagework. This was recorded barely two years after his famous first prize at the 1972 Leeds Competition. I vividly remember, sitting only yards from him, the buzz that went round the hall as he transfixed us with the Chopin First Concerto, totally masterful yet natural and spontaneous, as here.
The solos items are excellent - I still have the original release - and the fascinating, youthful Sonata shows us a 17-year-old composer revelling in his gifts as well as providing a tribute to his beloved Beethoven. It is also quite adventurous in its continuous, cyclic form. Whilst it may have flaws it is a very engaging piece, especially given this near-ideal advocacy.
There is, as ever, strong competition in the concertos in all price brackets. However at lower-mid and budget price the rival is Benjamin Frith's superb disc on Naxos, coupled with the Capriccio brillante and Rondo brillante, two shorter showpieces. There is also Andras Schiff with Dutoit and the Bavarian RSO on a cheap Decca Ovation coupled with a generous selection of Songs Without Words. In many respects, Schiff and Dutoit are very similar to Perahia and Marriner - the timings are nearly identical - and I would be hard pressed to choose. The Decca is a warmer, digital recording whereas the Sony is analogue with traces of tape hiss and a slightly harder edge. However, the playing is so good it's impossible not to welcome it. If you are fans of the artists and couplings, don't hesitate.
- Tony Haywood