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.