JAN LISIECKI – BEETHOVEN: COMPLETE PIANO CONCERTOS

 

“If one thinks of the Beethoven concerti as novels, each offers a deep spiritual journey. Performed together, this definitive anthology gives new light to the power of Beethoven’s genius.” – Jan Lisiecki

 

Beethoven has proved a serendipitous theme in Jan Lisiecki’s remarkable rise to international renown. In 2013, he performed the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 4 with Claudio Abbado and the Orchestra Mozart in Bologna, standing in at very short notice. It was this same concerto with which the young Canadian pianist made his Carnegie Hall debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin four years later, and his first Beethoven concerto to lead from the piano, at Suntory Hall in Tokyo.

On 13 September 2019, Deutsche Grammophon is set to release Beethoven: Complete Piano Concertos. The album follows Lisiecki’s acclaimed Mendelssohn concerto recording earlier this year and marks his sixth recording for the Yellow Label.

Lisiecki believes that the composer did not conceive the piano concertos as a cycle of their own. “In spite of this,” he adds, “they belong together because they reveal such a differentiated picture of Beethoven, starting with the first two, which still honour Mozart’s legacy. Then follow Nos. 3 and 4, both so inherently different in character, and the majestic ‘Emperor’ Concerto forms the finale.” It is this wide-ranging variety that Lisiecki finds fascinating, as it “reveals all the significant and oftentimes contradictory aspects of Beethoven’s music”. At the same time, the works signify a historic change: “Beethoven rewrote the rules of the classical piano concerto and completely reinvented the genre by breaking with traditions.”

The recording is a testament to both Lisiecki’s courage and his commitment: in late 2018, Murray Perahia was forced to pull out of a series of performances at short notice. Jan Lisiecki did not shy away from the challenge and joined the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, leading all five Beethoven concertos from the piano at the Berlin Konzerthaus – three concerts in five days. The musicians of the Academy, who have intimate knowledge of the scores and decades of experience ‘reading’ the collection of works, proved to be ideal musical partners for Lisiecki.

One of his guiding principles is clarity, both in terms of his communication with the orchestra, and as regards their joint interpretation of the works: “Beethoven’s music is the product of different ideas, which the listener should be able to retrace.”

The recording marks a milestone at the break of the Beethoven year 2020 and once again demonstrates that Lisiecki has long secured himself a place among the upper echelon of classical musicians.

An audiovisual release will follow in early 2020.


THE SPIRIT OF EARLY ROMANTICISM

Jan Lisiecki sparkles in piano music by Mendelssohn

For his latest Deutsche Grammophon album, set for release in February 2019, Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki explores a pair of early Romantic masterpieces: Mendelssohn’s Piano Concertos in G minor and D minor, in which he is accompanied by the internationally acclaimed Orpheus Chamber Orchestra of New York. He complements the two concertos with a selection of some of Mendelssohn’s most brilliant pieces for solo piano: the Variations sérieuses, the Rondo capriccioso and the “Venetian Boat Song” from the Songs without Words.

Despite his youth, twenty-three-year-old Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki has already built up a long list of achievements. Having skipped four grades, he graduated from high school at the age of fifteen. He began performing in public as a child, recorded his first album as a teenager, and made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2016, when he was still only twenty.

Felix Mendelssohn was a year younger than Lisiecki is now when he wrote his First Piano Concerto in G minor; the work was dedicated to the seventeen-year-old pianist Delphine von Schauroth, then the object of the young composer’s affection. Cast in three movements, it is a lively, spirited work, at times requiring lightning-quick playing. Lisiecki finds it remarkable that the concerto begins as if “in the middle of a piece”, and particularly appreciates the buoyancy of this early work – he thinks of it as like “a nature trip” and notes that its “lightness of touch ... reminds [him] very much of playing Mozart”.

Lisiecki sees the Second Piano Concerto in D minor, which Mendelssohn wrote immediately after his honeymoon in 1837, as providing a certain contrast with the First. “The Second Concerto has darker and deeper emotions,” he says. “It’s less secure, it’s uncertain, it’s not so confident, it’s searching.” He adds that it reminds him in some ways of Schumann, with its “rapid emotional changes and unprepared character swings”. He found it the more challenging of the two to record, not only because of its shifting moods, but also because of the intricacies of its orchestral accompaniment – as he points out, compared to the First Concerto, in the Second there is “more dialogue between the piano and the individual instruments”.

He chose to record the concertos with one of the world’s leading chamber ensembles, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. This elite group of players from New York are unusual in that they rehearse and perform without a conductor. “Everybody was involved in the musical process,” explains Lisiecki. “That was quite amazing to see. Usually it’s the conductor and I who are listening, but here you have a group of twenty people all listening to what was just done and hearing for themselves what they will change. That was a different experience.”

Lisiecki is opposed to the idea of albums that are essentially “collages” of the works in his repertoire, preferring to bring together works that complement one another programmatically or in terms of their character. On this occasion he has chosen to complement the two concertos with three of Mendelssohn’s finest works for the solo instrument: the Variations sérieuses, the Rondo capriccioso and the “Venetian Boat Song” (Venetianisches Gondellied) from the Lieder ohne Worte. All three are works that mean a great deal to Lisiecki, and he was delighted to be able to include them on this album and give listeners further insight into the composer’s dazzling keyboard writing.