MENDELSSOHN: Ein Sommernachtstraum, Op. 61(A Midsummer Night’s Dream) – Christiane Oelze, soprano/ Michelle Breedt, mezzo-soprano/ Nicholas Ofczarek, speaker/ Women of the Wiener Singverein/ Tonkunstler Orchestra/ Kristjan Jarvi, conductor – Preiser multichannel SACD 90786, 78:42 [Distr. by Albany] ***:
This would probably rate five stars were I German—as it is I can only manage three because the very notion of this entire score, absolutely complete in every way, yet littered with dialog rendered in—according to the notes—rather fantastic and fanciful German by contemporary writer Franzobel, is just too strange for me. The notes then say that this is translated back into English for the booklet texts! I can understand the need to translate to German, but why elaborate? Either we are presenting Shakespeare or we are not! But as an only partial-German speaking American, the 78 minutes went by rather slowly, especially when forced to listen to the German narration.
It took a long time for the Bard’s work to hit Germany. In fact, Mendelssohn’s score was prepared for the first-ever performance in Potsdam in 1846 when royalty was present, and the production was a first-class effort that spared no expense or efforts at creativity. Shakespeare’s Dream was going to make a big splash the first time around one way or the other. Mendelssohn of course had been obsessed with the story since he first wrote the Overture at the age of sixteen—oddly enough one detects no stylistic incompatibilities years later at the premiere with the rest of the newly-composed music.
Jarvi steers the Midsummer ship through steady waters, including a very leisurely Overture, though a few numbers, like “Ye spotted snakes” are taken too fast for my taste, rendering them almost silly sounding. But this is a quip as on the whole it is nicely balanced and well-considered in terms of tempos. The Super Audio is nicely spread, with the back speakers getting mostly a little more than echo, and the surround picture is very pleasing. But with the nonstop German I could never recommend this as a first choice unless someone has to have it all in German. You can get selections from Ormandy in German (without narration) in an almost-complete version on RCA, and Judith Blegen and Frederica von Stade are spectacular (Oelze and Breedt are very good here, but they don’t match the Philadelphia recording). Previn is another one always mentioned, and he uses English. But my favorite for some time is the Ozawa/Boston rendition on DG with Von Stade returning and joined this time by Kathleen Battle, while Judy Dench narrates and uses the Bard’s own words. If you want the German narration by all means secure this disc-you won’t be disappointed, and it sounds great. All others should look elsewhere.
— Steven Ritter
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