Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream (CD review)

Also, Ruy Blas Overture.  Rebecca Evans, soprano; Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano; the Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company; Le Jeune Choeur de Paris; John Nelson, Ensemble Orchestral de Paris. Virgin Classics 50999 628631 2 4.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) began work on his music for Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream when he was still in his teens, composing the overture in 1826 when he was only seventeen. He then completed the work some sixteen years later, in 1842, while in the employ of the Prussian court. The King suggested he compose complete incidental music for a new production of Shakespeare's 1595 play, and Mendelssohn complied, with the music premiering in 1843.

John Nelson directs the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, along with the Le Jeune Choeur de Paris and members of the Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company in a presentation of musical and verbal excerpts lasting about seventy minutes. Personally, I found the words merely disrupted the music, but if they suit your fancy, you get a goodly amount of them.

Anyway, Nelson's way with the music is fairly routine when you compare his performance with those of Andre Previn and the London Symphony (EMI) in their complete account or Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia (also on EMI) in their more-limited selections. Nelson's reading never seems to catch fire, never floats airily, never dances as merrily as Previn's or Klemperer's versions do. In fact, it almost appears as if Nelson just wanted to get the music over with in order to proceed with the dialogue.

The famous Overture Nelson handles with efficiency rather than enchantment. "Ye Spotted Snakes" comes across well enough, if without much bite. The Intermezzo sounds fairly nice; the Nocturne a bit hurried; the "Wedding March" properly ceremonial if not too festive; and so on.

I wish I could say I liked this disc better than I did, given my love of Mendelssohn's music. However, I found Nelson's conducting just too literal for my taste and the dialogue excerpts too intrusive. Not even the accompanying Ruy Blas Overture did much for me, I'm afraid.

Virgin recorded the music in December of 2001, first releasing the disc in 2003 and reissuing it in 2010. The orchestral sound is a trifle thin compared to the aforementioned Previn and Klemperer recordings. The bass is light, and the lower midrange lacks warmth. It's not a real concern given the nature of the music; I just mention it in passing. The high end is OK, though, as are inner detailing, stage depth, and dynamics. They're nothing extraordinary, mind you, just pleasant, adequate sonics. Unfortunately, the voices don't seem particularly well integrated into the rest of the production but come across as added on afterwards, which they probably were.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa