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Mendelssohn: Die Erste Walpurgisnacht, Midsummer Night's Dream / Dohnanyi, Ashkenazy

Mendellsohn / Dawson / Ger So Berlin / Ashkenazy
Release Date: 02/16/2009 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4801279  
Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Dalia SchaechterLynne DawsonAlfred SramekHorst Laubenthal,   ... 
Conductor:  Vladimir AshkenazyChristoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester BerlinBerlin Radio Women's ChorusVienna Philharmonic Orchestra

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MENDELSSOHN A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Overture; Incidental Music. 1 Die erste Walpurgisnacht 2 Vladimir Ashkenazy, cond; 1 Christoph Dohnányi, cond; 2 Lynne Dawson (sop); 1 Dalia Schaechter (mez); 1 Margarita Lilowa (mez); Read more class="SUPER12">2 Horst Laubenthal (ten); 2 Tom Krause (bar); 2 Alfred Sramek (bs); 2 Berlin R Women’s Ch; 1 German SO Berlin; 1 Vienna P & Singverein 2 DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 1279 (78:39)

Here is another release from the Decca Eloquence label, Universal’s Australian subsidiary. But unlike another Decca Eloquence CD featuring the Eastman Wind Ensemble, reviewed elsewhere, which I urged readers to consider acquiring in its still available original Mercury release, the disc at hand presents a rather different set of circumstances.

Ashkenazy’s Midsummer Night’s Dream , featuring Lynne Dawson and Dalia Schaechter, is outstanding, one of the best—effervescent and scintillating throughout; but when first released in 1994 on the original Decca label, it was one of those CDs that the company decided, for whatever reason, not to distribute in the U.S. It is still available, but in its original coupling with the composer’s Octet, from amazon.com in the U.K., and it will set you back big bucks.

Dohnányi’s Walpurgisnacht , on the other hand, is domestically available in its original London/Decca release, now packaged as a twofer along with Mendelssohn’s First and Second Symphonies. To complicate matters further, Dohnányi recorded the piece a second time for Telarc with the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus, and with Tom Krause once again the baritone of choice. And that recording, too, is still widely available.

On balance, this import Decca Eloquence release gets my vote. First, it offers extremely generous timing in coupling one of Mendelssohn’s best loved and most recorded scores, the Overture and Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream , with one of his least known and least recorded works, Die erste Walpurgisnacht . Second, of the many excellent versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream out there, Ashkenazy’s, with the incomparable Lynne Dawson, really is one of the finest accounts. And third, the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus, good as they are in Dohnányi’s Telarc version, are not quite a match for the Vienna Philharmonic and Singverein in the earlier Decca recording.

There is one minor caveat, however. The booklet note to the Decca Eloquence is skimpy and absent texts. While the sung portions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are familiar enough, Die erste Walpurgisnacht is not nearly so well known. Frequently translated as “The First Witches’ Sabbath,” the piece is loosely classified as a cantata. At least no one can accuse the Jewish Mendelssohn of not being open to other faiths. His oratorios Elijah and Paul pay homage to the Hebrew prophet and the Christian apostle, respectively, while Die erste Walpurgisnacht is a veritable Druid’s Halloween celebrating pagan rituals. It’s surprising that Mendelssohn wasn’t censured by Church officials for setting to music Goethe’s ballad with lines like “Christians and their priests are witless,” and “Come with prongs and pitchforks.” As noted, recordings of the work have not been numerous. Kurt Masur led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and an all-star cast in a 1973 performance on Berlin Classics, and Claus Peter Flor had a more recent go at it for RCA with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, but it comes packaged in a six-disc set including the symphonies, concertos, and overtures. A couple of other older recordings, one with Peter Maag and the other with Igor Markevitch are both still around, but I’ve not heard them, so I can’t comment. Performance-wise, Dohnányi’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht is very good, and coupled with Ashkenazy’s outstanding A Midummer Night’s Dream , the Decca Eloquence disc is an excellent choice, despite the absence of texts. Recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 61 by Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Dalia Schaechter (Alto), Lynne Dawson (Soprano)
Conductor:  Vladimir Ashkenazy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin,  Berlin Radio Women's Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1842; Germany 
Midsummer Night's Dream Overture, in E major Op. 21 by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Vladimir Ashkenazy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1826; Germany 
Die erste Walpurgisnacht, Op. 60 by Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Alfred Sramek (Baritone), Horst Laubenthal (Tenor), Margarita Lilowa (Mezzo Soprano),
Tom Krause (Baritone)
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1832; Germany 

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