Lisiecki Plays Mendelssohn Mostly Very Well

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

Jan Lisiecki seems to be staking his claim to the early romantic piano repertoire, and as his previous disc of Chopin music for piano and orchestra showed, he certainly has an affinity for it. The solo pieces here come off especially well. Lisiecki shapes the Variations sérieuses with careful attention to patterns of tension and release, especially in the quick variations; and the coda, which can sound unduly abrupt, has a welcome feeling of finality when it arrives. The Rondo capriccioso is deft and light, certainly, but not so fluffy as to sound utterly inconsequential, and the Venetian Gondola Song from the first set of the Songs Without Words makes a sweet encore.

In the two concertos, there are a couple of problems to set alongside some brilliant playing in the outer movements of both. The first has nothing to do with Lisiecki at all–it’s the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra that lets the show down (slightly). Their playing is clear and sharp, but also rhythmically rigid and dynamically constrained. Mendelssohn’s music, perky and amiable though much of it is, can still take more weight than this. It could be that the orchestral approach encourages Lisiecki to articulate runs and other passagework with an avoidance of legato that adds to the cool general impression. He does much better in the lyrical slow movements. While there’s little here that qualifies as “wrong,” comparison with reference versions by Thibaudet or Serkin reveals just what is missing.

Fans of this promising young artist might want to give this a listen for the solo pieces at least, and I can imagine some listeners having fewer reservations about the approach to the concertos than I did. A qualified recommendation then, along with a definite desire to hear more of Lisiecki on disc.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Thibaudet/Blomstedt (Decca)

    Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; Variations sérieuses; Rondo Capriccioso in E major; Venetian Gondola Song, Op. 19b/6

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