The fortepiano doesn’t make much noise, but under good hands it can cast a powerful spell with the works which were written for it. Facing us were two such beasts, neatly folded into a companionable embrace – ready for period-performance maestro Robert Levin and his Taiwanese wife Ya-Fei Chuang to deliver the rarely-performed “Concerto for Two Pianos in A flat” written by a fifteen-year-old Felix Mendelssohn, to showcase the brilliance of the greatest virtuoso of his day.
Mendelssohn’s artistry at this tender age was staggering: the soloists’ parts were deftly knitted together, and equally deftly spliced with the orchestra. And we got a fine sense of complicity between soloists and orchestra, because their respective timbres were so evenly balanced.
The piano parts were conceived as equals too, though the soloists’ musical personalities – Levin’s sinewy forcefulness versus Chuang’s delicate grace – created a piquant contrast. With support from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Margaret Faultless’s, er, faultless direction, this work proved well worth its airing.
The pair then returned to give a beautifully-calibrated account of Schubert’s majestic “Fantasy in F minor”; the concert was book-ended with the most spirited Beethoven (“Coriolan” and the Eighth Symphony) I’ve heard for a long time.