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Seiji Ozawa’s recording, with narration from a national treasure, is Classic FM’s top choice of Mendelssohn’s interpretation of a magical night in the woods.
￼Those immortal words “I’ve started so I’ll finish” were taken to the extreme in the case of one Felix Mendelssohn. The German composer was just 17-years-old in 1826 when he composed an overture inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it wasn’t until 1843 that he completed the rest of the incidental music, which has become so popular – in particular the famous Wedding March.
As children, both Felix and his sister Fanny read the Bard’s work and the play became one of the boy’s favourites, not only in the original English but in a German translation provided by their uncle, writer Ludwig Tieck.
The Overture, surely one of the most magical overtures ever composed, was an instinctive response to the play. However it is the King of Prussia, Frederick William IV, we have to thank for the rest of the music. He was such a fan of Mendelssohn’s work that he asked him to write the incidental music for a new production of the comedy to be directed by Tieck.
Mendelssohn interlinked the scenes with a series of songs, dances, entr’actes and brief melodramas. The first night was on October 14, 1843 in Potsdam, Germany, with the music taking more plaudits than the performance of the play itself.
Each of the recordings is very different. Firstly, André Previn and the LSO perform the Overture and all the incidental music. The lively opening sets the scene for a distinctly alluring reading, including some notable interventions by the two soloists and children’s chorus. The Nocturne is taken slower than most, but what serene horn playing; Previn is also particularly adept in bringing off the colourful Finale.
THE RECORDING TO OWN ￼￼￼
Kathleen Battle (sop), Frederica Von Stade (mz), Judi Dench (narr), Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Boston Symphony Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 439 897
■ Lillian Watson ( sop), Delia Wallis (mz), Finchley Children’s Music Group, London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
EMI 574 981 2
■ Pamela Coburn (sop), Elizabeth von Magnus (mz and narr), Christoph Bantzer (narr), Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Chamber Orchestra of Europe/ Nikolaus Harnoncourt
WARNER APEX 2564 67870