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The Third Piano Concerto hits London

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Jessica Duchen Jessica Duchen | 11:36 UK time, Monday, 6 April 2009

roberto_prosseda_photo-multigram.jpgIt turns out that R Larry Todd isn't the only person who has had a go at resuscitating and rounding off Mendelssohn's Third Piano Concerto. On Saturday night the piece enjoyed its UK premiere in the form given to it by the Italian Felixophile composer and conductor Marcello Bufalini, with a stunningly beautiful and sympathetic performance from the pianist Roberto Prosseda. The London Philharmonic was conducted by its new principal guest maestro, Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

So what's it really like? I can hear Larry's point about the opening movement's resemblance to the Violin Concerto theme: the contours are similar, though the piano concerto's is less sinuous and atmospheric, instead appearing in march-like mode that resembles some of Mozart's opening movements. Mendelssohn and Bufalini keep their soloist exceedingly busy: there are as many notes as you'd expect in either of the two complete concertos, a challenge to the best virtuoso. The transition to the second movement is similar to the Violin Concerto, but takes place rather more rapidly.

The second movement itself is by far the highlight: a haunting, Italianate gondola-song that appears first on two oboes, later returning on two clarinets. Hear this movement if you get the chance: it's so beautiful that, if Mendelssohn had placed it among his Songs Without Words rather than in an incomplete concerto, it might have become one of his most popular.

While Larry lifted the Violin Concerto finale to complete the concerto, Bufalini has gone down a different route, taking what few sketches Mendelssohn left and working them out himself into a high-spirited, fingerglittering finale that wouldn't feel out of place in a film of a Jane Austen novel. Masterfully accomplished, all things considered. And so great to have a chance to hear it.

It's intriguing to learn that apparently Prosseda has exclusive access to the performance of the Bufalini version; apparently it was the pianist who viewed the manuscript in the Bodleian Library and persuaded Bufalini to take on the task of reconstruction. Imagine being the only pianist permitted to play what is effectively a brand-new work by Mendelssohn! He deserves it: he's a superb performer and has made the piece entirely his musically as well as contractually. After this, and his appropriate encore of the F sharp minor Song Without Words (also a Gondola number), I would very much like to hear him again.

Meanwhile Radio 3 is gearing up towards the highlights of Mendelssohn year, with major events on 23 April and over the first weekend of May... Check back here soon for the details.


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