Vivid performances of Mendelssohn favourites . . . Ashkar is a vibrant and stylish pianist whose love for these concertos shines through in the poetic way he plays them, and Chailly and the orchestra give solid but sensitive support.
If this album by Riccardo Chailly and his Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra were a cat, I'm sure I'd be stroking it all day long. There's just something about the sound they make -- the unity of the ensemble, the lively colours, the fine blend -- that positively demands a tactile response. I hope this winning team continues at full strength . . . Those heartfelt melodic lines and brilliant instrumental textures were born to be played with character and finesse . . . [the opening bars of the "Ruy Blas" overture] point the way forward with meaty brass chords, round and warm. What follows is equally well-judged, and very strokable. Chailly's adroit touch continues in the five "Midsummer Night's Dream" selections. He presses the accelerator in the Overture . . . but there's never a sense of unseemly haste. And instrumental details keep spreading bliss: taut timpani blows like the crack of thunder; the velvet horns, luxurious in the Nocturne's opening melody; and always the birdlike flutes, gambolling in the air . . . [Piano Concertos nos. 1 & 2]: [Saleem Ashkar is] a very fleet-fingered chap. In the G minor, the sunnier of the pair, he leaps about with athletic force, always a tone with the orchestra.
. . . [Overture to "Ruy Blas"]: there's rhythmic solidity, mellow brass and plangent pizzicatos, and a generous sense of heroism. And the sleek and gutsy Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly's baton swings into action with true Mendelssohnian dash . . . [Overture to "A Midsummernight¿s Dream"]: the playing is so nonchalant in its flare and finesse that it never feels rushed. One could believe this orchestra . . . truly has this music in its blood. Lyrcism is not laboured; Victorian sentimentality there is not a jot. The high point is the two Piano Concertos. Pianist Saleem Ashkar proves an ideal match for Chailly and the orchestra. He captures just the right balance of clarity, swiftness of attack, poetry and élan: every note shines with sun-reflecting clarity as the finales whirl along, Mendelssohn's limitless passagework wonderfully even and always musically shaped. Best of all, though, this feels like chamber music in which eavesdropping on the conversation of pianist and orchestra is more crucial than merely admiring the sound of their voices.
Mendelssohn and Leipzig are a natural combination . . . [Saleem Ashkar] gives big-scale virtuoso performances of the two concertos . . . it is exciting.
For collectors, the main item of interest on this disc is the original 1839 version of the overture "Ruy Blas" . . . it's fascinating to hear Mendelssohn's first thoughts . . . a well-filled disc. The performances are crisp and lively . . . the music is always kept moving. The piano concertos are brilliantly played, and soloist Ashkar copes well with the fast tempi. The recording is clean, open, and well balanced.