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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809 – 1847)
Symphony No. 4 in A, Op, 90 (1833)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Opp, 21 and 61 (1826 / 1842)
Judith Blegen (soprano)
Florence Quivar (mezzo)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by James Levine (Symphony)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by James Levine (Dream)
recorded in Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, Op. 90, Nov 1988, Orchestra Hall, Chicago, July 1984.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON Masters 445 605-2 [68’31"]
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This recording or at least part of it brings back memories of the tone of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in the early days, when DG (‘DGG’ as it once was) used to record nearly all of their major projects in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche. This is mainly due to the creamy tone of the oboe in the Italian Symphony. The performance of the Symphony is immaculately prepared and the playing is powerful. Exposition repeats are played and the overall conception is a somewhat larger than life performance of Mendelssohn’s perennial favourite.

The Berlin Philharmonic plays almost note perfect, and instead of another Mendelssohn Symphony, as was on the original release in 1989, we have on this disc the Overture and main components of the incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The Overture is an early work, quite miraculous for a teenager, played here in Chicago, by American forces. In addition to the usual items, we have also the Song with Chorus – "You Spotted Snakes". After the Intermezzo, Nocturne and Wedding March, we are treated to the finale entitled "Through the House give glimmering light". Once again, everything is in its rightful place and the female voices are fine. I have occasionally found that Florence Quivar has a pronounced beat in her voice, but happily this effect is kept under control here.

Although there are more items to the incidental music, it is by no means complete – it is rather a half way house. I am at a loss to understand why this is so. There is ample time remaining on the disc for the rest, so if you are looking for the complete incidental music, this is not the disc for you.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus perform these items extremely well. Memories of nearly being flattened against the back of the Royal Albert Hall by the mega powerful brass section when they last performed in England are not totally removed!

This orchestra, particularly in the hands of this conductor, is not totally successful in portraying the delicacy of Shakespeare’s gossamer lightness as developed by Mendelssohn. There are plenty of better versions of these works available.

With all of the competing versions, in perfectly reasonable performances, I can’t see why this disc was released at all, particularly when James Levine does not have a particularly keen following. Perhaps with his holding down of the Chief conductorship in Munich, DG thought that there might be a chance for this reissue.

John Phillips

 


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