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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Mendelssohn in Birmingham - Volume 4
Violin Concerto in E minor Op.64 [27:56]
Jennifer Pike (Violin)
Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream [39:44]
Rhian Lois (soprano), Keri Fuge (soprano)
CBSO Youth Chorus
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
rec. Birmingham Town Hall, England, 13-14 July 2015
SACD/CD Hybrid stereo/surround 5.0
Reviewed in surround

Jennifer Pike, at the ripe old age of 26, has spent over half her life in the public eye after winning the BBC Young Musician in 2002. Here she turns in a committed and very strong performance of Mendelssohn's great concerto. It is quite a relief not to have anything too sweet to hear. Edward Gardner seems to agree with her and his rhythmically alert conducting and the top class playing of the CBSO makes this a recording well worth owning even for those who have too many recordings already.

The rest of the disc is made up of all the significant parts of the Midsummer Night's Dream music. Only the melodramas are omitted. No great loss since these are more background to the spoken text than stand-alone music. So we have the Overture, Scherzo, Song 'Ye spotted snakes', Intermezzo, Notturno, Wedding March, Dance of the Clowns and the sung Finale 'Through this house give glimm'ring light'. The contributions by the two solo sopranos are cleanly articulated but not placed forward so they sound appropriately from within the orchestra. Just right I thought. What is striking about all these pieces is how urgent and strongly accented they are. This is not the place to seek delicate fluttering Mendelssohn: the CBSO perform it with almost Beethovenian strength. It makes one sit up and pay attention to nearly 40 minutes of very fine music. It is amazing how well the composer managed to integrate the youthful overture with the much later items without any gaps showing, in inspiration or in style. Mendelssohn never reached old age, he barely achieved his middle years. Treated seriously like this he gains in significance.

I have not heard the previous three volumes (Volume 1 ~ Volume 2 ~ Volume 3) in this series containing all the mature symphonies and some overtures but if this is how Gardner and the CBSO perform in all that splendid music perhaps I should repair the omission. Chandos always provide good surround sound and this is no exception with all the details audible but nothing out of perspective.

It was interesting to note that the recording venue was the Town Hall. I seem to remember that was the CBSO's home before they moved to the more prestigious Symphony Hall. The Town Hall was always a good acoustic and still sounds like it.

Dave Billinge

Previous review: John France



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