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