Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream - Gardiner
LSO Live LSO0795 (2 discs)
Classical - Orchestral
Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Symphony No. 1
Alexander Knox (Puck), Ceri-lyn Cissone (Titania), Frankie Wakefield (Oberon)
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)
Continuing his award-winning cycle of works by Felix Mendelssohn, Sir John Eliot Gardiner leads the LSO, his Monteverdi Choir and three talented young actors from the Guildhall in a landmark performance of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream', which was performed as part of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. To mark the celebrations, Gardiner produced a special version of the work featuring some cuts to the original movements that, in his words, "remove all of the music relating to the Mechanicals and thus focus on the world of the fairies and the human lovers".
Mendelssohn, who adored Shakespeare’s writings, composed his concert overture based on 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' in 1827 aged 17, after having read a German translation of the play. The overture was immediately acclaimed as a masterpiece and quickly became a popular favourite throughout Europe. Years later in 1843 he was asked by the King of Prussia to provide a score for an entire production: 14 short works based on themes and moods from the original overture, with a broadly romantic sound although classical in style and structure.
The Pure Audio Blu-ray disc includes bonus footage of the concert performance of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 1, alongside high resolution master audio.
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Review by Graham Williams - February 14, 2017
This is the fourth release in the exhilarating survey of Mendelssohn's orchestral music from Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the London Symphony Orchestra, a series that continues to delight and surprise with its unfailing freshness and dramatic thrust. This latest issue features both the Overture based on Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' that the teenage composer wrote in 1827 and the incidental music to the play that followed some sixteen years later as a result of a commission from the King of Prussia.
Presented as a two-disc set (Blu-ray and SACD) these performances stem from a concert recorded at the Barbican on 16th February 2016. The concert also included Mendelssohn's 1st Symphony that has already been issued on the LSO Live label Mendelssohn: Symphonies 1 & 4 - Gardiner.
For his Incidental Music to 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' Mendelssohn interlinked the scenes of the play with songs, dances, entr'actes and melodramas. Some of these are so brief that they make no sense at all without context and the presence of spoken word. Aiming to present a meaningful 'complete' performance of this score, therefore is fraught with difficulties. Some conductors use a narrator to link the scenes, others plump for just the well-known vocal and orchestral numbers while Dausgaard on BIS includes every brief snippet Mendelssohn wrote without referencing them to the play – a literal approach, but hardly an imaginative one.
Gardiner's chosen solution has been to produce a version that concentrates on the magical world of the fairies and the human lovers, Helena, Demetrius, Lysander and Hermia whilst omitting the music of the 'Mechanicals' altogether. This does result in the absence of the 'mock' Pyramus and Thisbe funeral march as well as the brief ' Dance of the Clowns' (no.11), music that has mostly appeared in the Overture – so its absence is no great loss. What Gardiner has done is to use three talented young actors from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama – Ceri-lyn Cissone, Frankie Wakefield and Alexander Knox – who crisply deliver Shakespeare's text in the appropriate passages that are punctuated, as intended, with all Mendelssohn's melodramas. How brilliantly this works in practice can be seen as well as heard by accessing the video footage of the full concert – included on the Pure Audio Blu-ray disc – in which, thanks to imaginative lighting, the Barbican Hall becomes transformed into Shakespeare's enchanted wood.
From the first bars of the Overture – perfectly blended wind chords and delicate shimmering strings – it is clear that the LSO is on top form and so it proves to be throughout the performance.
The conductor's historically informed approach – violins antiphonally divided and played with minimal vibrato, hard timpani and fleet tempi – make for an account of the score in which the imaginative qualities of his interpretation are enhanced by the clarity of the sound on these discs.
In the vocal numbers the wonderfully accurate singing and clear diction of the twelve ladies of the Monteverdi Choir placed at the right hand side of the platform could hardly be improved upon.
Perhaps though what shines through most on this recording is the affection that Gardiner brings to Mendelssohn's delectable creation and how he successfully communicates it to the consummate musicians of the LSO.
The sound quality on both the SACD and the Blu-ray discs, as captured by the Classic Sound team in the often much maligned Barbican acoustic, does not disappoint. It is some of the most impressive I have heard from this venue. Though closely miked it still has an agreeable ambience, lack of dryness and a vivid presence.
As with two of the earlier releases the package includes not only a hybrid SACD (2.0 stereo and 5.1 multi-channel mixes) recorded in DSD 128fs, but also a Pure Audio Blu-ray disc (5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio 24 bit / 192 kHz & 2.0 LPCM 24 bit / 192 kHz) that includes the video footage referred to above. This disc also contains downloadable digital files. With a Blu-ray player connected to a home network users can access the player via a web browser and using the mShuttle technology provided, download the files from the Blu-ray disc to a home computer. The digital file formats provided on this disc are: Stereo files in DSD / 24 bit 96 kHz FLAC / 16 bit 44.1 kHz and WAV 320 kbps MP3. More information on mShuttle technology can be found at www.pureaudio-bluray.com/mshuttle. Full texts are included in the liner notes.
Even those with one or more alternative versions of these Mendelssohn works will find this stimulating recording well worth investigating.
Copyright © 2017 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net