Piano Concerto No.2

Felix Mendelssohn

Piano Concerto No.2 in D minor

Op. 40

About this work

Felix Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 40 (1837), was premiered by the composer, to much acclaim, at the 1837 Birmingham Festival. In comparison with the Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 (1830-1831), the Second Concerto is somewhat subdued, lacking the irrepressible verve and impatience of the earlier work. Nevertheless, this works exhibits all the admirable characteristics of Mendelssohn's writing for piano and orchestra: dramatic themes, engaging virtuosity, and moments of reflective, even mysterious, calm. While the solo part unmistakably assumes a central role, Mendelssohn never relegates the orchestra to mere accompanimental figuration: instead, it figures prominently in presenting the main themes and complementing the piano with sensitive coloration. The concerto opens with the orchestra presenting a simple, triadic theme; in Mendelssohn's hands, however, this deceptive simplicity translates into a mood of seriousness, immediately engaging the listener. This atmosphere is dispelled by the brightness of the charming second theme, which introduces an atmosphere of lightness and transparence. The second theme, almost narrative in quality, reappears in a number of guises, exemplifying Mendelssohn's extraordinary ability to imaginatively reiterate a particular musical idea. The second movement opens with a piano solo that develops into an emotional labyrinth. Mendelssohn creates a hypnotic atmosphere of tranquil meditation, mystery, and melancholy. As the movement progresses, this mood transforms into a subtle dialogue between piano and orchestra. The third movement displays the scherzando qualities so typical of Mendelssohn's concertante works. Breathless, energetic, and somewhat fragmented, the finale exploits the brilliance and virtuosic possibilities of the piano to the fullest, deftly interspersing this effervescent flow with moments of soul-searching tranquility.