Producer: Nicholas Parker Engineering: Classic Sound Ltd Recorded: Live in DSD, January 2014, Barbican Hall. This album brings together three enduringly popular works by two extremely well-known nineteenth-century composers, including the inaugural solo concerto on the LSO Live label.

A meticulous craftsman, Mendelssohn was somewhat Classically-inclined, yet also prone to moments of Romantic spontaneity. This was certainly the case when he visited Scotland with a friend in the summer of 1829: in July they were at Holyrood Palace and Mendelssohn was getting ideas for a symphony (the ‘Scottish’); and on 7 August a visit to the Western Isles had the composer writing home that ‘in order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides have affected me, I have written down the following which came into my mind’. ‘The following’ was the opening 10 bars of the ‘Hebrides’ Overture.

Even as a youngster, Mendelssohn had a talent for drawing inspiration from literature, landscapes, legend, and history. However, a fastidiousness in his concern for formal clarity and balance in his works meant that the competing compositional interests of formal logic and evocative pictorialism could prove tricky; a problem that the ‘Scottish’ Symphony happily manages to avoid. Its inspiration lies in the grey mists and mountains of Walter Scott’s Scotland: the opening ‘Holyrood’ theme conjures a gloomy and romantic image, a brief but particularly ‘Scottish’ scherzo follows, then a wistful song-melody of the yearningly beautiful Adagio, before the finale – fast and warlike – summons images of Highlanders in resplendent battledress. However, he chooses to end not with a grand swirling climax, but rather, having slowed the music down, with a final, warmly comforting transformation of the ‘Holyrood’ theme. Thus, for all the work’s conscious Scottish-isms, formal coherence is effortlessly maintained.

Despite its organic unity, Schumann’s only Piano Concerto was composed in two separate instalments, at two very different times in his life. The first movement was originally written as a stand-alone Fantasie for Piano and Orchestra. However, three years later, in 1844, following a concert tour of Russia, Schumann suffered a breakdown and period of serious depression. For a long time, he was unable to resume composition, but eventually he added two movements to his Fantasie: the result was one of Schumann’s most daring and romantically delightful works. It is hard to believe that the man who wrote this gloriously “alive” music was, at the time, emerging from chronic depression. The ending of the finale in particular sounds like an outpouring of the purest joy.

The playing and balance throughout this recording is exemplary; Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Maria João Pires, and the London Symphony Orchestra proving to be the perfect partnership for this vibrant music.

Introduction note by David Millinger, based on the programme notes of Lindsay Kemp and Stephen Johnson.

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