Felix Mendelssohn - Piano Concertos 1 & 2

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FELIX MENDELSSOHN - PIANO CONCERTOS 1 & 2 - SYMPHONY No. 5 "Reformation" - LOUIS LORTIE (Piano - Conductor) - QUEBEC SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA - 722056261722 - Atma ACD22617

What caught my immediate attention when this CD started playing, was the clarity and finesse of the recording. The piano sound in particular, in this case the instrument is a Fazioli, has a clarity and detail rarely heard. Based on the photograph inside the booklet, and I assume because Louis Lortie is conducting from the piano, the instrument is actually facing the orchestra and the bulk of it is nestled within the first rows of strings. So, congratulations on the impeccable microphone placement to achieve such clarity and definition between the players involved.

The Felix Mendelssohn Piano Concertos are well known staples of the repertoire, and are given a fresh reading in this recording by the Canadian pianist Louis Lortie, who has been performing for many years all around the world and has released many fine recordings for the Chandos label, of works by Beethoven, Ravel and Liszt to name only a few. This, however, is his first recording as a conductor if I am not mistaking, and if this version of the Symphony No. 5 is any clear indication, he is just as fine a conductor as he is a pianist.

The Quebec Symphony Orchestra, the oldest Canadian orchestra celebrating 107 years this year (2009), plays with conviction and has a supple sound that fits this type of music very well. Another nice surprise from the Atma label.

Jean-Yves Duperron

For his recording debut as conductor-soloist, Louis Lortie appears to have adopted the motto, “l’Audace, toujours l’audace.” The demanding dual role is akin to directing traffic at a busy intersection while transcribing sonnets on a laptop with 88 keys. Lortie displays supreme confidence and a gift for meticulous preparation. The pianism dazzles and the orchestra responds in kind. This team exemplifies the exuberance intended by the composer. These performances sweep aside the current favourite (Brautigam/Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Markiz – BIS) to establish new benchmarks for the numbered piano concertos by Mendelssohn. Lortie and the orchestra render the same exalted level of service in the Reformation Symphony. It seems closer to Robert Browning’s Fra Lippo Lippi in spirit than grumpy old Martin Luther and is all the more entertaining for that. The Quebec Symphony exhibits both strength and finesse and the performance imparts an impression that these fine musicians thoroughly enjoyed the sessions during April of this year. Sound engineering by Carlos Prieto is remarkably realistic. The Salle Raoul-Jobin du Palais Montcalm provides a warmly sympathetic recording venue. This issue is a landmark in Louis Lortie’s progress to consummate musicianship. Barring a major injustice, it should earn him a Juno Award and is deserving of the highest international honours as well.

Stephen Habington