Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809 -
Symphony No 3 in A Minor. Op 56 "Scottish"
Midsummer Night's Dream, Overture Op 21 and Incidental
Music. Op 61*
Jennifer Vyvyan (sop)*, Marion
Female Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden*
London Symphony Orchestra Peter Maag
Recorded April 1960 (Symphony); Feb 1957 Kingsway Hall, London.
DECCA Legends 466 990-2
How good it is seeing old friends again after such a long time. That is the
way I feel on receiving for review a disc of Peter Maag playing Mendelssohn.
I recall with great affection the initial release on LP of the material that
makes up this Decca Legends release - reminders of which are helped by the
inserted photographs of the original sleeves. The contents of the new CD
were then on two completely different vinyl records, released separately
following recording sessions three years apart. Decca put out the Symphony
along with different couplings (The Hebrides and some extracts from MND)
in the nineties on CD in their Classic Sound label - a release that passed
me by. This latest offering on the new Legends label makes a new generously
filled selection with state of the art remastering (96kHz 24-bit for the
boffins who understand such things).
There was the best possible base to work from. Decca engineering at its best
at the time when they led the world - the Kingsway Hall venue they knew so
well and the LSO - never the most consistent of ensembles but at its committed
best the match of any orchestra anywhere in music that it enjoyed playing.
That commitment to music and conductor is obvious throughout.
Peter Maag was undoubtedly a supreme conductor of Mendelssohn. Why a man
shines in a particular composer's work more than another must be put down,
I imagine, to an empathy with that composer. The converse, of course, is
when a conductor simply cannot abide a composer. Which is why we avoid Maestro
X playing you-know-who (feel free to add the names of your choices).
There is an instinctive feel for the pacing of the Symphony and the balance
and proportions always seem just right. Clearly rehearsed music cannot be
spontaneous in its truest sense but that is the impression it gives - a group
feeling of pleasure shared at the moment of creation. The multi-tempi,
multi-layered opening movement, a sparkling scherzo full of grace, a reflective,
slightly sombre adagio and the vigorous finale with that roistering big tune
at the end - and all those snatches of melody that Mendelssohn seemed able
to dash off at will. The LSO of 1960 was here at the peak of its form and
that recording techniques of the time that relied on basics and a minimum
of fancy work with microphones has been shown, yet again, to be correct.
So much can be heard in its proper perspective.
Decca had earlier recorded the Overture and Incidental Music
to Midsummer Nights's Dream with the same team plus two sopranos and
the Ladies of the ROH Chorus. Seven of the twelve numbers of the incidental
music are included on this disc. The Overture, composed by a mere
boy, a precociously gifted seventeen year old, shows a slight thinness of
the strings compared with the Symphony - recording know-how had moved
on in three years - but none of it matters in the context of the performance.
It is a little gem of a work, and Maag with deft touches here and there polishes
all the facets.
The Incidental Music positively oozes melody. The popular pieces are
there, the Scherzo, open textured but robust, the Nocturne
(with some lovely sectional playing, notably the horns), Dance of the
Clowns and inevitably the Wedding March. Brief additions from
the two sopranos and the choir are first-rate.
I cannot be alone in my views of the merits of this truly classic disc. The
Gramophone Classical 100 included its Classic Sound predecessor. The record
is something special and should be snapped up before it goes into the black
hole where CDs seem to disappear to so quickly these days. Surely a strong
candidate for Record of the Month.