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Mendelssohn: Ein Sommernachtstraum / Midsummer Night's Dream / Die erste Walpurgisnacht

Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Nikolaus Harnoncourt Audio CD

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Available recording for Die erste Walpurgisnacht 15 Oct 2009
By M. Cocchi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
I am only reviewing the second work (and cover art subject) on the album. Granted, there aren't many recordings available for "Die erste Walpurgisnacht", but this Harnoncourt recording easily surpasses all others that I've heard. The quality of both the recording and the choir is excellent. The soloists evoke the proper sense of emotion relative to the words that they are singing (the liner notes provide the words in 4 languages, including English and the original German in which it is sung -- making the booklet barely able to fit in the jewel case). The result is an awesome spectacle of sound, fury, and imagination. It is very much unlike the commonly-known Mendelssohn works. Walpurgisnacht (as based on the German tradition here, in a transcription of a poem by Goethe) is very similar to Halloween. So while this music is actually set for night of April 30th (leading into the morning of May 1st), it evokes the same demons, witches, and terror that is the hallmark of Halloween. If you have the stomach for something dark and dramatic (without becoming overly long and tiresome), then I recommend this piece and this recording highly.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mendelssoh's fantastic side, familiar and strange 11 Dec 2006
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
The catalog doesn't need a new version of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream, but this one is sung and spoken in German (hence the use of Sommernachtstraum on the cover), which is rare. It's reminder that Mendelssohn was setting a German translation of Shakespeare. Harnoncourt's performance is very fine. His speakers and singers are first-rate, and he evokes both the dreamy relaxation of the play and its mercurial swiftness. Tempos are on the fast side, phrasing is crips without being terse, and the execution by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe could be mistaken for the Concertgebouw.

Mendelssohn wrote the overture to MND when he was 17, but he was thirty when he composed the rest of the music in 1840-41. In between, he set a ballad of Goethe's as a sedular oratorio from 1830, The First Walpurgis Night. It isn't one of his most notable works, since it falls short of expressing Goethe's text. Heresy and paganism seem rather lightly dealt with, and critics often point out that Mendelssohn, a composer uncomfortable with dissonance, was hardly the right choice to depict evil. The writer of the liner notes for this CD takes the posiiton that the music is meant to be satiric and humorous. Maybe.

In any event, Harnoncourt gives his all, and there are moments of quality music, such as the overture, that I was happy to encounter. Among the seven soloists (too many for the practical staging of a 30+ min. work), Thomas Hampson and Rene Pape are the standouts, not surprisingly. the Arnold Schoenberg Choir is expert, as always. I think the best way to approach Die erste Walpurgisnacht is to tkae it as lihgtly as MND, disregarding the Victorian niceties of Mendelssohn's theology. As diabolical fairy music it's not as engaging as its famous disc mate, but enjoyable nonetheless.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SIMPLY FABULOUS! 15 Feb 2009
By Gengler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
As most know, the Overture is a miraculous-Mozartian-level-of-perfection piece of wonder.

The rest of this piece is full of beautiful melody and enchantment. For the life of me, I can't figure out what the previous reviewer mean when she wrote that it "sounds truly symphonic, like a cross between Berlioz' Fantastique (sic) and Beethoven's 9th", but I do admire her enthusiasm.

Harnoncourt conducts with great style and vigor, and the recording is as clear and transparent as one could desire. The soloist are all fine - in fact the only performance that truly rivals this one is Herrewegghe's on Harmonia Mundi, and even he doesn't quite capture the gossamer magic of this piece.

It seems to be selling for less than $[...] used on amazon these days. At that price, it's a steal and a no brainer.

What else can you spend $[...] on these days for enchantment?
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wondrous Performance 6 April 2005
By Edith Swanek - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
This is a truly wondrous coupling and performance. Die erste Walpurgisnacht sounds truly symphonic, like a cross between Berlioz' Fantastique and Beethoven's 9th. A great less-performed work. The Midsummer's Night to some might be a bit fast, but the energy is as authentic and welcome as can be.
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