LSO/Gardiner review – lovingly attentive Mendelssohn

Barbican, London
John Eliot Gardiner and the London Symphony Orchestra celebrated the Shakespeare anniversary with a perfectly judged all-Mendelssohn programme

Shakespeare’s 400th is already making its mark in London’s musical programming this year. But it needs no anniversary to justify Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The pieces are so ideally judged to the atmosphere of the play that they can almost seem to have been conceived right alongside it, rather than over 200 years later, especially when they receive such a lovingly attentive performance as this one by the London Symphony Orchestra under John Eliot Gardiner.

Like Osmo Vänskä in his tremendous recreation of Sibelius’s less well-known music for the Tempest with the LPO a week before, Gardiner threaded the pieces together with a selection – better judged in this case – of Shakespeare’s lines, pertly delivered by Ceri-Lyn Cissone, Frankie Wakefield and Alexander Knox. The Monteverdi Choir very nearly stole the whole show with a pinpoint perfect rendering of the fairies’ lullaby for Titania. But, one false horn entry apart in the masterly nocturne, it was the consistent suavity of the LSO’s playing under Gardiner’s baton that impressed most of all. The winds were outstanding in Mendelssohn’s shimmering score, but Gardiner was not afraid to let the sturdier side of Mendelssohn’s writing have its voice, and some of the rarely played accompaniments in the lower strings had an almost Wagnerian tonality.

The more muscular side of Mendelssohn’s sound was there before the interval too in Gardiner’s spirited rendering of the 15-year-old composer’s C minor first symphony, with the violins and violas playing standing up in 19th century fashion. It’s an amazingly confident symphonic debut, from which Mendelssohn later withdrew the original third movement minuet and trio, substituting an orchestrated version of the dazzling scherzo from his string octet. Characteristically, Gardiner offered both versions for the audience to consider. To these ears his performance made the case for Mendelssohn’s first thoughts, whose grander manner is more in keeping with the rest, and which has a trio one would not wish to be consigned to obscurity.


Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

LSO/Gardiner – review

The Oedipus Rex was thrilling in this all-Stravinsky concert, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

26, Apr, 2013 @4:56 PM

Article image
LSO/Gardiner/Faust review – alert to Schumann's volatility and rigour
Isabelle Faust’s heartfelt performance of the Violin Concerto was at the centre of an exquisite and convincing all-Schumann programme

Tim Ashley

19, Mar, 2018 @2:03 PM

Article image
The week in classical: the Anvil at 25; Semele; Symphonie fantastique – review
The excellent Anvil celebrates its quarter century with flair not fanfare, Handel’s a hit at Ally Pally, and more Berlioz fireworks

Fiona Maddocks

12, May, 2019 @6:59 AM

Article image
Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner – review

John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir celebrated their 50th anniversary with a glorious – if perhaps too manicured – period performance of the Vespers of 1610, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

06, Mar, 2014 @2:18 PM

ORR/John Eliot Gardiner – review

Former radical John Eliot Gardiner was better conducting Beethoven's Seventh than the Fourth, writes Martin Kettle

Martin Kettle

10, Nov, 2011 @7:00 PM

Monteverdi Choir/EBS/Gardiner – review
This concert marked the release of the last disc in John Eliot Gardiner's ambitious Bach Cantata Pilgrimage – and it showed the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists remain at the top of this game, writes Erica Jeal

Erica Jeal

14, Dec, 2010 @10:15 PM

Article image
English Baroque Soloists/Gardiner review – revitalised Mozart
The immense skill of Mozart’s writing for wind, horn and violins was to the fore in EBS’s serene, precise performances of the composer’s last three symphonies

Rian Evans

18, Jan, 2016 @3:19 PM

Article image
ORR/Gardiner review – exhilarating 25th-anniversary celebration
Celebrating a quarter-century of sprucing up the 19th-century repertoire, John Eliot Gardiner’s Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique showed their mettle with Beethoven and Berlioz, writes Martin Kettle

Martin Kettle

09, Nov, 2014 @11:56 AM

Article image
The top 10 classical shows of 2017
A magisterial Monteverdi cycle, Oliver Knussen’s adventures in haiku – and a hero’s return for Simon Rattle. Our critic picks his highlights

Andrew Clements

18, Dec, 2017 @6:00 AM

EBS/Eliot Gardiner, Royal Albert Hall, London

Royal Albert Hall, London

Tom Service

17, Aug, 2004 @1:11 AM