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Mendelssohn’s extraordinary early activity as a composer – twelve string symphonies, six operas, the astounding Octet for strings and much else besides by the time he was 16 – went hand in hand with a cultured upbringing that left him well versed in matters literary and artistic. His parents’ home in Berlin was one of Germany’s most active intellectual salons, and Mendelssohn was used to regular concerts, theatrical performances, and literary readings there. While still only 17, inspired by these experiences, he was moved to compose an overture based on Shakespeare’s enchanted comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Fifteen years after its premiere in 1827, Mendelssohn was commissioned by the King of Prussia to provide incidental music for a production of the play, to be preceded by the overture, which had long since become one of his most popular pieces. He returned effortlessly to the atmosphere of his teenage masterpiece, contributing magical music that glistens and shimmers, including a lively Scherzo, a dreamy Nocturne, and the famous Wedding March.

This recording was captured in February 2016, at a semi-staged performance, as part of the “Shakespeare 400” celebrations at the Barbican Hall, London. Whilst Mendelssohn’s full set of incidental music includes songs, entr’actes, and various other little snippets, this version, assembled by Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the LSO, focuses on the music of the world of the fairies and the human lovers. Selected spoken episodes from the play are interspersed, performed by exceptional young graduates from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (a partner institution of the LSO and Barbican Centre). The collaboration really brings the score to life and guides us through the drama, presenting the music in its original setting.

There is a real freshness about Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s approach to the more well-known parts of the score, and the LSO’s players respond to his direction with an outstanding performance.

Introduction note by David Millinger, based on the programme notes by Lindsay Kemp.

© David Buckley

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