MENDELSSOHN: ‘OVERTURE AND INCIDENTAL MUSIC TO A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM’, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer/Channel Classics SACD CCSA 37418 At the beginning of the liner notes that accompany this SACD of Mendelssohn’s ‘Overture and Incidental Music to a Midsummer Night’s Dream’, the conductor Iván Fischer contributes a typically quirky and tongue-in-cheek introduction to the music. He writes: “No doubt fairies exist. Mendelssohn spoke their language well. When he considered composing music to Shakespeare’s play he decided to focus on the scenes with fairies. Humans like this music. It entertains them. They are allowed to listen to this CD, too. However, we made this recording for fairies. They listen differently. This recording is full of hidden messages which they will understand.”
Fischer brilliantly conveys the magical world of fairies in the opening bars of the ‘Overture’, thanks to the superb playing of his crack Budapest Festival Orchestra. The immaculate wind chords and ethereal string textures are testament to the remarkable quality of this orchestra displayed throughout this recording. The contrasting main allegro is unhurried and though full of deliciously pointed detail it lacks both the drive and lightness found in some other recent recordings of the piece. This is especially evident in the middle section (from 6.23) and the closing section (from 12.12) where Fischer slows the tempo to an almost funereal pace. Perhaps the fairies will understand the interpretive reason for this more than I do.
By contrast, Fischer’s performance of the ‘Incidental Music to a Midsummer Night’s Dream’ that Mendelssohn wrote at the request of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia is marvellous in every respect. All the familiar set pieces are performed with style and aplomb. From a deft Scherzo, a dreamy and perfectly paced ‘Nocturne’ to a thrillingly vigorous ‘Wedding March’ the conductor displays a real affection for this score. Unlike some other versions on disc he includes one of the composer’s brief linking passages – an ‘allegro vivace’ (tr. 3) – and also the mock Funeral March for Pyramus and Thisbe, delivered here with wonderful poker-faced humour by the clarinets and bassoons. For the vocal sections Fischer has engaged two very fine soloists. Both soprano Anna Lucia Richter and mezzo-soprano Barbara Kozelj have bright fresh voices and excellent diction. They are ably supported by the mellifluous Pro Musica, women’s choir of Nyíregyháza.
The final pieces on this disc are of special interest as they were composed by Fanny Mendelssohn the beloved elder sister of Felix who after her marriage become known as Fanny Hensel. Both Mendelssohn siblings were musically gifted, but with the restrictive attitudes toward women prevailing at the time (and many would say continuing today) it was Felix who was destined for a musical career while his sister was prepared for life as a hausfrau. Fortunately Fanny’s husband Wilhelm Hensel was supportive of her musical talent and during her short life she composed over 450 pieces of music including 250 songs, 125 piano works, four cantatas, as well as chamber music and choral works. Very few of her works were published in her lifetime, and most disappeared until gradual rediscovery during the 20th century. The three short songs, sung radiantly here by Anna Lucia Richter, are the soaringly melismatic ‘Die Mainacht’ (May Night) Op.9 No.6. followed by the poignant ‘Ferne’ (Distance) Op 9 No.2 and finally a cheerfully flowing ‘Gondolied’ (Gondola Song). All three of Fanny’s songs are beautifully orchestrated, but by whom? I can find no answer in the otherwise helpful liner notes where the writer Clemens Romijn refers at one point to …’expressive harmonies on the piano’… ? Such, however, is the melodic beauty and freshness of these songs that one wishes that it had been possible to include more of them on a disc with a total playing time of 56.35. It need hardly be stated that the recording (DSD 5.0) from engineers Jared Sacks and Hein Dekker made in the Palace of Arts, Budapest is in Channel Classic’ usual house style, beyond reproach.
Texts and translations of all the vocal pieces are included. The main works on this SACD face keen competition on both SACD and CD, but admirers of this conductor and orchestra are unlikely to be disappointed with this release. Recommended.