LABELS: LSO Live
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn
WORKS: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Overture & Incidental Music; Symphony No. 1*
PERFORMER: Ceri-lyn Cissone, Alexander Knox, Frankie Wakefield (actors); Monteverdi Choir; LSO/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: LSO0795 (hybrid CD/SACD & *Blu-ray)
There’s an unadvertised bonus item on the Blu-ray disc, and not just a tiny makeweight either. A deliberate surprise? If so, I’m afraid my duty as a reviewer is to review it, so – spoiler alert! – before reaching Mendelssohn’s fairy realm, you will have the unadorned pleasure of a performance of his First Symphony, and one that includes both the original Minuet and Trio, and his orchestration of the Octet Scherzo with which he replaced these for London in 1829. That Scherzo was then encored – not surprisingly if the performance was anything like this one. The whole work is delivered with exemplary brio and polish, with strings 99 per cent vibrato-less (old habits die hard).
If anything, the virtuosity in this Scherzo is exceeded in that of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where John Eliot Gardiner lops off at least 20 seconds from the versions of Claudio Abbado, Charles Mackerras and Seiji Ozawa. The interplay between spoken and instrumental sections is smoothly engineered and the young actors keep things moving, notably Ceri-lyn Cissone as a spiky Titania and Alexander Knox as the sort of Puck you would keep a close eye on in class. But it’s Mendelssohn’s lyricism that wins out overall: how do you sum up nearly an hour’s music with just a slow, high, softly descending E major scale? Genius.