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Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Vol 4 - Pike, Gardner

Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Vol 4 - Pike, Gardner

Chandos  CHSA 5161

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto; A Midsummer Nights' Dream (excerpts)

Jennifer Pike (violin)
Rhian Lois & Keri Fuge (sopranos)
CBSO Youth Chorus
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Edward Gardner


For this new recording of orchestral works by Mendelssohn, the CBSO and its principal guest conductor, Edward Gardner, join the violinist Jennifer Pike, who made a remarkable debut at Carnegie Hall this year.

She here performs the Violin Concerto in E minor, the piece that launched her career thirteen years ago when she became the youngest-ever winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year Award. Her first album on Chandos (CHAN 10667: sonatas by Frank, Debussy, and Ravel) was praised by Classic FM as ‘one of the most outstanding début albums of recent years’. The music of Mendelssohn is probably more highly valued and widely loved today than it has been at any period since his lifetime. This recording contains two of his later works: the Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1843), in which he managed to recapture and amplify the unique magic of his early years, and the Violin Concerto in E minor (1844), which has retained its standing among the three or four greatest of its genre ever since.

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Review by Graham Williams - January 8, 2016

Volume 4 of this Chandos series 'Mendelssohn in Birmingham' brings us two of the composer's most popular works – the E minor Violin Concerto and the Incidental Music for Midsummer Night's Dream, neither of which require introduction to most music lovers.

Ever since winning the BBC Young musician of the year in 2002 at the age of 12 playing this very concerto Jennifer Pike's career has had an upward trajectory and, as this performance of the Violin Concerto demonstrates, her interpretation of the work has deepened over the past thirteen years.

The natural simplicity with which she plays the opening of 'Allegro molto appassionato' is immediately compelling and as the movement progresses the unforced lyricism of her playing continues to impress. Clearly this is an interpretation designed to communicate the beauty of Mendelssohn's writing rather than act as a vehicle for mere virtuosity, though the cadenza demonstrates the mettle of Pike's playing. The linked 'Andante' illustrates the sheer tonal beauty of the sound she elicits from her Matteo Goffriller 1708 instrument and the apparent ease and elfin lightness with which the finale is delivered is breathtaking. The deft accompaniment from Gardner and the CBSO is all one could wish for while Mendelssohn's light scoring ( A pair of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and trumpets plus timpani and strings) means that the reverberant acoustic of Birmingham Town Hall does not create any problems of orchestral clarity. It is also pleasing to observe that the soloist has been placed at a realistic distance in front of the orchestra. This is a version to grace any Mendelssohn collection.

In the case of the incidental music to Shakespeare's a Midsummer Night's Dream Op.61 - composed at the request of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia – Mendelssohn used the Overture Op 21 that he had composed sixteen years earlier and constructed thirteen new numbers in order to unify the piece. Six of those numbers are melodramas, that is patches of music to accompany or intersperse the spoken texts at key moments, and these are omitted from this recording. For some this may seem a loss in dramatic unity for others an advantage as, following the Overture Opus 21, we are given (1) Scherzo, (3) Song with Chorus, (5) Intermezzo, (7) Notturno, (9) Wedding March, (11) Dance of Clowns, and the Finale – a satisfying 39' 44” of glorious music. Gardner's account is interpretively straight forward – well paced with judicious choices of tempo – swift, but not lacking in sensitivity. Rhian Lois and Keri Fuge, the soprano soloists in the two vocal sections sing most attractively as do the CBSO Youth Chorus though the latter do not always enunciate as clearly as one might wish.

The Chandos 5.0 (24-bit / 96 kHz) recording matches that of the earlier three issues and those seeking a coupling of these works are unlikely be disappointed thanks to the high quality of the musicianship of all concerned.

Copyright © 2016 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comment by William Hecht - January 8, 2016 (1 of 10)

Thank you for the review Graham. Unlike hiredfox I've been quite happy with the new Dausgaard recording of MSND, but I would add this one if the vocal numbers are in English. Would you clarify please? Thanks.

Bill

Comment by diw - January 8, 2016 (2 of 10)

So I am curious about a comparison between this and the new Bis recording. The running time for Midsummer Night's Dream on the Chandos disc is 39:44 and on the Bis disc is 49:26. So should I assume the Chandos disc is less complete in the Incidental Music? Also comments on relative sound quality would be helpful. If there is a difference in the language choice for the vocal parts, that would be important for a potential consumer to know.

Comment by Graham Williams - January 9, 2016 (3 of 10)

Hi Bill
Yes the vocal numbers are sung in English and they are also printed in the liner notes.

diw As I stated in my review, six of the thirteen melodramas are omitted so I assume that this wholly or partly accounts for the timing difference with Dausgaard. As I have not heard the Dausgaard recording I am unable to comment on its sound quality compared with that from Chandos

Comment by William Hecht - January 10, 2016 (4 of 10)

Thanks for the update, Graham. For an English speaker Bunte Schlangen, zweigezungt doesn't have quite the appeal of "You spotted snakes...".

Comment by hiredfox - January 11, 2016 (5 of 10)

I bought this and the BIS discs at the same time so a direct comparison of Gardner and Dausgaard was more or less unavoidable. For the reasons cited elsewhere Gardner's more expressive and dramatic reading was much preferred by this listener. Neither challenges as a front runner.

It was a brave if inevitable decision for Jennifer Pike to record the Mendelssohn concerto, everyone does of course and the result is a very crowded field of top class performances from just about every notable and gifted violinist on the planet past and present. In that context this becomes just another version to add to the list but on it's own merit is still beautifully played. Historically, Kyung-wha Chung still takes top honours for me, more recently on SACD Mullova is hard to beat.

Comment by hiredfox - January 11, 2016 (6 of 10)

For your pleasure ladies and gentlemen

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nm1QiKSO5bk

Comment by Euell Neverno - January 24, 2016 (7 of 10)

Not always a contrarian, nonetheless Pike's performance of the Mendelssohn strikes me as a low voltage affair. The incidental music to a Midsummmer Night's Dream, on the other hand, impresses as much as Litton's excellent LPO performance on EMI, though less complete. Like hiredfox, I didn't warm to Dausgaard's offering on BIS.

Comment by William Hecht - February 6, 2016 (8 of 10)

Altogether a pretty nice disc. Pike's concerto is smooth, and yes, somewhat low voltage. Gardner's take on MSND is indeed more dramatic than Dausgaard's , and that's a plus, but the singers' diction is nothing to write home about, making this almost as indistinguishable to an English speaker as the BIS recording in German. The sound is better than reviews of previous discs in this series led me to expect, but isn't nearly as good as the BIS. And, of course, the BIS recording is actually complete while here the melodramas have been sacrificed, for no apparent reason since the added 10 minutes +/- would have fit. Altogether pretty much a case of swings and roundabouts, neither recording being outstanding, but both having achieved a good to very good standard.

Comment by Euell Neverno - February 14, 2016 (9 of 10)

Ha ha, Bill. Do you listen to the words? My only critique would be that lisping could confound the time signature. ;-)

Comment by William Hecht - February 16, 2016 (10 of 10)

I try, Euell, I try, but my efforts were unavailing here. A somewhat elderly Previn recording on EMI is much better in that respect, one of the many casualties of EMI's (and successors) ludicrous failure to exploit their multichannel back catalog.