"Die Erste Walpurgisnacht" is Goethe, probably not Goethe anywhere near his best, and it has nothing to do with Faust. Goethe did, however, convince Mendelssohn to set it, and the result is pure delight - a masterpiece of Mendelssohn's fierce, fairy-style, tuneful, atmospheric and endlessly entertaining style. "Die Erste Walpurgisnacht" was first performed in 1833 (later revised) and was apparently rather popular for a time, although it seems to have fallen out of favor until recently (when interest in Mendelssohn's choral works in general seems to have surged). I suppose there is little sense of danger and darkness in Mendelssohn's work - the overall impression is of good-natured fun - but there is still plenty of whirling energy. The overture, for instance, is magnificent, and the following choral scenes - while not among Mendelssohn's most memorable creations - very effective. The real fun, however, starts when the druids the poem is about start rattling their staves in excitement (or slightly before, when they move watchfully through the forest in an exciting pizzicato scene). So ok; the overall structure is a little weak, but I cannot imagine anyone who enjoys the Midsummer Night Dream music failing to appreciate this vibrant, vivacious work.
The spectacle is well caught by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Kurt Masur; the chorus is excellent and the soloists impressive, though I must admit that I do not really know any of the alternative recordings well enough to compare. The main drawback is a slightly woolly recording that does to a certain extent diminish the energy of the work (primarily when the singers or chorus are involved). Edda Moser is impressively anguished in the concert aria "Infelice" as well (a rewarding rarity). As fillers we get fine accounts of the Overture in C major and Das Märchen von der schönen Melusine, though again the recorded sound is less than satisfying. The performance of Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt is no more than adequate, but neither this nor the slightly problematic recorded sound can completely undermine a strong recommendation for this recording of some really exciting and not particularly well known music.