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A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Incidental Music op.61 (1826) [42:08]
The Fair Melusine - overture op.32 [11:28] (1833)
Calm Sea and a Prosperous Voyage - overture op.27 [11:04] (1828)
Magdalena Falewicz (1st elf - soprano); Ingeborg Springer (2nd elf – mezzo);
Ladies Choir of Deutschen Staatsoper
Staatskapelle Berlin/Günther Herbig (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Kurt Masur (overtures)
rec. details not given
Experience Classicsonline

This is one of Berlin Classics’ ‘Schätze der Klassik’ (‘Best-loved Classics’) issues. Very prettily packaged, with a particularly attractive painting decorating the interior, but no booklet of notes, and no details of recording dates and venues etc. The small – very small!– print on the back cover tells us that the Herbig tracks were originally recorded in 1977, those by Masur in 1976, but that is the sum total of the information we get.

Having said that, these are very fine, even outstanding performances. The Midsummer Night’s Dream music in particular receives appropriately magical playing from the Berlin State Opera Orchestra, directed with absolute stylistic mastery by Günther Herbig. It is one of the great miracles of music that Mendelssohn, who composed the perfect overture in 1826 at the tender age of seventeen, then wrote the remainder of the incidental music for a production of the play in Potsdam in 1843, some fifteen years later. And yet there is neither an inconsistency of style nor any deficit of inspiration; this is some of the most brilliant and beautiful music of the entire Romantic era. 

Herbig’s players are equal to the very considerable technical demands of the music, whether it be the pianissimo scurrying strings of the Overture, the rapid staccato of the woodwind in the Scherzo, or the sustained horn solo of the Nocturne. Their quality is matched by the fresh-voiced ladies of the State Opera Choir, and Magdalena Falewicz and Ingeborg Springer have the ideal vocal qualities of lightness and youthfulness. It all adds up to a very special musical experience, and it is honestly hard to imagine this music rendered more effectively. 

The other two overtures did not appear quite so prodigiously early in Mendelssohn’s career as the Shakespeare-inspired one. Nevertheless, he was just eighteen when ‘A Calm Sea and a Prosperous Voyage’ was written, while ‘The Fair Melusine’ dates from 1833 when he’d reached the advanced age of twenty-four! It has to be said that, despite some attractive and poetic touches, these are much more routine pieces than the Midsummer Night’s Dream music, less innovative, less characterful and less inspired. But they are both enjoyable enough, and ‘A Calm Sea and a Prosperous Voyage’ has the added interest of containing the theme which Elgar quoted in the mysterious Variation XIII of Enigma. Mendelssohn made it breezy and confident; Elgar transformed it into something of infinite melancholy, whispered by a solo clarinet across a sea-mist of strings. 

Like Herbig, Masur shows a complete sureness of touch in this music, and his orchestra – Mendelssohn’s own, the Leipzig Gewandhaus – respond with an understanding unblemished by any sense of over-familiarity. 

Distinguished performances indeed, enshrined in recordings which represent the highest standards of the times in which they were made.

Gwyn Parry-Jones


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