Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture & incidental music; Ruy Blas Overture

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture & incidental music; Ruy Blas Overture
PERFORMER: Rebecca Evans (soprano), Joyce Di Donato (mezzo-soprano), etc; Le Jeune Choeur de Paris, Paris Orchestral Ensemble/John Nelson
CATALOGUE NO: 5 45532 2
John Nelson and his forces play Mendelssohn’s beloved score complete, interspersing excerpts from Shakespeare’s play. Members of the Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company read these passages naturally and with insight, even if the conception tends toward the understated – the deaths of Pyramus and Thisbe are quite genteel, for example (accordingly, Nelson’s clarinettist hardly emphasises the parodistic quality Mendelssohn surely intended in the funeral march). Elsewhere, Nelson’s performance is dramatically alert, preferring immediacy of character to the gossamer, moonlit sonorities this music is ideally suited to creating. The horn articulation in the Nocturne is perhaps overly pointed, for example, and Rebecca Evans’s declamatory vivacity reflects only part of the range of character possible in ‘You spotted snakes’. The sound of the Paris Orchestral Ensemble lacks the rounded beauty that some might consider optimal in this score, and I’m not happy with the recorded balance – when the speaking voices are at a comfortable level the orchestra seems a bit distant.

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Such criticisms notwithstanding, those who want a recording of Mendelssohn’s full score including spoken portions of the play will likely find this version more than acceptable. It is not, however, as satisfying a realisation of Mendelssohn’s music as some of the complete versions that omit spoken dialogue, such as Andrew Litton’s often recommended account (which, though excellent, sounds to me overly studied in places). Perhaps Claudio Abbado’s recording – less than complete but finding the beautiful sonorities Nelson lacks, a sure dramatic sense, and Kenneth Branagh’s accomplished narration – constitutes an acceptable compromise. David Breckbill