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.

Contributor

Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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