Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 40
Length: 23 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings, and solo piano
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances
Yes, contrary to the belief of generations of advanced piano students that the G-minor Piano Concerto of Mendelssohn is that composer's only work for keyboard and orchestra, there is indeed a second piano concerto, one in D minor composed some five years after the ubiquitous First Concerto. That this second concerto has been so successfully overshadowed by the first is, like so many oddities in musical life, difficult to understand. The D-minor Concerto is no less rewarding pianistically or musically inferior, and it stands firmly on its Mendelssohnian virtues.
The German composer, an avowed Anglophile, wrote the Second Concerto for the Birmingham Music Festival and was the soloist in its first performance at the festival in 1837. Mendelssohn's love affair with England, and its with him, was one of long standing, having begun with his first trip there in 1829.
Both orchestra and piano participate in the introductory process of the D-minor Concerto's first movement: Winds enter softly with a descending D-minor triad; strings then present an eight-note motif. The piano enters with rhapsodic solos until finally a fiery octave passage leads directly to a statement by the orchestra of the propulsive main theme, which is the eight-note motif of the strings now grown to full thematic proportion. The piano's busy athleticism takes respite in a secondary theme that is the essence of Mendelssohn's sentimental songs-without-words melodiousness.
The Adagio second movement, glowing with all the romanticism the composer can muster, is the persuasive calm before the D-major scherzo energy of the bravura finale. Surely Mendelssohn's Birmingham audience must have been elated by the creativity as well as both the technical wizardry and the soulful lyricism of their favorite German hero, about whose playing a British critic wrote, "In forcible and impetuous passages, there was a force and an élan which almost took one's breath away. His touch was exquisitely delicate, his fingers sang as they rippled over the keyboard."
Orrin Howard served for 20 years as the Philharmonic's Director of Publications and Archives. He continues to contribute to the program book.