COMPOSERS: Felix Mendelssohn
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn in Birmingham
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Incidental Music to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
PERFORMER: Jennifer Pike (violin)/Rhian Lois, Keri Fuge (soprano)/City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Youth Chorus/City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
CATALOGUE NO: Chandos CHSA 5161 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Living as he did on the cusp between the Classical and Romantic eras, Mendelssohn has always invited a wide range of interpretations, some invalid (notably those indulging in gross rubato), some valid in respecting the notes while varying the quality of sound. Jennifer Pike does nothing here to inflame those of an orthodox persuasion and, with her sweet, singing tone and graceful phrasing, walks in the footsteps of many illustrious predecessors. Fans of Anne-Sophie Mutter, who takes Mendelssohn’s ‘appassionato’ marking and runs with it, may find Pike too restrained, but for me her interpretation works well, if within a relatively narrow dynamic compass – and if there are no tremendous ‘wow !’ moments, we should ask ‘need there be?’ Is Mendelssohn’s artistic perfection not enough? (It’s good, incidentally, to have Bayan Northcott’s note rubbishing ‘the allegation that he failed quite to fulfil the promise of those miraculous youthful masterpieces’.)
The orchestra, impeccable in the concerto, continue to play beautifully in the music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But for me the tempo of the (certainly miraculous) ‘Nocturne’ is a touch too fast. It would be unfair to call it perfunctory, but a slighter slower speed would make it sound more settled and comforting, to fit its place at the end of Act III after Puck’s ‘The man shall have his mare again, and all shall be well’. Elsewhere, surely fairies don’t sing with vibrato?