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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
WORKS: Ruy Blas Overture; A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Overture and extracts; Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Saleem Ashkar (piano); Gewandhausorchester/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 481 0778


It is perhaps a little disingenuous of Decca to entitle this CD A Midsummer Night’s Dream after the most famous title in the programme; the work is represented here only by the overture and a few extracts. The Ruy Blas Overture, opening the disc, is of greater interest, the first recording of a new edition by Christopher Hogwood; there’s rhythmic solidity, mellow brass and plangent pizzicatos, and a generous sense of heroism. And the sleek and gutsy Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly’s baton swings into action with true Mendelssohnian dash.

They dispatch the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream at faster than average tempo; you could imagine Puck putting a girdle round the earth in 40 minutes, probably less. Yet the playing is so nonchalant in its flare and finesse that it never feels rushed. One could believe this orchestra – on whose podium Mendelssohn himself presided between 1835 and his death in 1847– truly has this music in its blood. Lyricism is not laboured; Victorian sentimentality there is not a jot.

The high point is the two Piano Concertos. Pianist Saleem Ashkar proves an ideal match for Chailly and the orchestra. He captures just the right balance of clarity, swiftness of attack, poetry and élan: every note shines with sun-reflecting clarity as the finales whirl along, Mendelssohn’s limitless passagework wonderfully even and always musically shaped. Best of all, though, this feels like chamber music in which eavesdropping on the conversation of pianist and orchestra is more crucial than merely admiring the sound of their voices.


Jessica Duchen