Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – incidental music

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – incidental music with spoken text and melodramas (in English)
PERFORMER: Jenny Wollerman, Pepe Becker (soprano); Varsity Voices; Nota Bene; New Zealand SO/James Judd
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570794

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This recording gives us 20 minutes extra of Shakespeare’s text above what is offered on Seiji Ozawa’s disc for DG. A definite plus, you might think. Yes and no. Obviously there is some dramatic gain from this increase, especially since the characters of the play are now split between seven actors instead of being incorporated in Judi Dench alone.

The ‘no’ comes almost entirely from the standards of speaking. The actors on this disc seem to me to be trying terribly hard, militating against the play’s magic, and some of the voices are ungrateful to the ear.

They are also recorded at a volume often louder than the music, and a couple of words actually ‘pop’ against the microphone. Dame Judi for Ozawa, on the other hand, is utterly enchanting.

On the musical front the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is more than respectable, though it’s a pity that in the ‘Nocturne’ Judd’s unmarked turn of speed in the middle section leads to a slightly faster return of the great horn tune.

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Only at moments of extreme technical strain – in the Scherzo, for example – does the superior technique of the Boston players really tell. There’s little to choose either between the two choruses and the two pairs of soloists, who all respond with becoming lightness and charm to this extraordinary music. Roger Nichols