Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Overture and Excerpts); Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony

Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly (Accentus Music; DVD)

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CD_ACC20438_Mendelssohn_cmyk

Mendelssohn • Tchaikovsky
Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Overture and Excerpts); Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony (DVD)
Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
Accentus Music ACC20438 99:32 mins

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Founded by Claudio Abbado and nurtured by Pierre Boulez, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is annually drawn afresh from the lead players of many European orchestras, but with a core of members who like to return year after year. This DVD of a concert of Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky celebrates the accession of Riccardo Chailly, who took over the reins in 2016, bringing with him a number of players from his orchestra at La Scala. As a piece of filmmaking, it is utterly conventional: lead players are duly picked out in close-up whenever they have a prominent phrase; the camera pulls back to take in the full orchestra for major tuttis; Chailly’s clear, unfussy gestures and limited range of facial expressions are all registered – though his most intense moments of inner feeling seem reserved for the seconds after the music finishes. The recorded sound is full, warm and enveloping.

Apart from Mendelssohnian touches in the scherzo of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred, it is hard to hear why these two works have been programmed together, but both receive absorbing performances. As of August 2017, when this concert was recorded, the orchestra featured a particularly colourful and well- integrated wind section and the many solo touches in Mendelssohn’s Overture and Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream are all delectably done. Tchaikovsky initially resisted Balakirev’s injunction to write a programme symphony on Byron’s Manfred, then got utterly absorbed in it (‘The most difficult thing I have ever done’), was proud of the result and then, characteristically, turned against it all except the first movement. In fact, its first three movements are among his finest achievements, especially the magically inventive scherzo, and though not even Chailly can quite hold together the work’s Lisztian farrago of a finale, this is a vivid and impressive reading.

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Bayan Northcott