LSO/Haitink – Ravel’s Mother Goose & Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Ma mere l’oye
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Overture, Op.21 & Incidental Music, Op.61 [Performance edition adapted and edited by Ara Guzelimian]

Sir Thomas Allen (narrator)
Sarah-Jane Brandon (soprano) & Daniela Lehner (mezzo-soprano)
Eltham College Choir

London Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 23 June, 2011
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Bernard Haitink. Photograph: Clive BardaTwo magical scores with plentiful enchantments were here appositely paired to close the LSO’s 2010-11 Season. Bernard Haitink has long excelled with French music. In Ravel’s case it’s a meeting of fastidious minds. Add in a finesse that appreciates the composer’s watchmaker’s precision and the reserve that respects his prudence, flickers of light and action emerging from inside the music and growing into fairytale suspense. Good to hear the complete Mother Goose score, too, its Prelude and Interludes always missed when the Suite is presented. Here was a performance of suggestion, atmosphere and subtlety, the LSO playing with sensitivity and eloquence, silences pregnant, orchestra and conductor at one in searching the score to deeply expressive and hypnotic effect, without subjugating lilt, and illuminated from within. Blessed with some outstanding solos, not least from leader Roman Simovic, this was a rapt performance, sometimes unbearably poignant, which ravished the senses.

Two days after the Summer Solstice (but spot-on for Scandinavia it seems), the Mendelssohn was slightly less a success. Thomas Allen was amplified, and even if relatively discreetly it was not enough to escape some boom from the loudspeakers that sometimes blunted his impeccable enunciation (his delivery of several roles – doing an Alec Guinness, Kind Hearts and Coronets – was excellent and unexaggerated) and which made him intrusive when speaking over soft music. As an opera singer who knows how to project his voice he could surely have delivered without artificial stimulus, itself contrary to the naturalness (and distance, the two sopranos were placed with the choristers middle-ground towards the right-hand side) of all the other performers.

Such a miscalculation was but a blip (if an avoidable one) on an otherwise very enjoyable ‘version’ (55 minutes’ worth) of Mendelssohn’s often-astonishing Shakespeare-inspired score, its greatest sections remaining evergreen. Haitink and the LSO offered the miraculous Overture in an account that was delicate and deft, gracefully and poignantly turned if a little marred in fortissimos by punchy timpani and edgy trumpets but enriched by antiphonal violins (a new-found enlightenment for this conductor). Following this, and despite the LSO’s terpsichorean elegance, the Scherzo was just a little too nippy to be properly pointed. After this all was first-rate, not least Timothy Jones’s mellifluous horn solo in Nocturne, a palpitating Intermezzo and a Wedding March of splendour. Those shorter musical portions that are genuinely ‘incidental’ are also examples of ‘high art’ and were here treated as such. The two lady soloists, whether spotted snakes or weaving spiders, entered into the captivating spirit that was created, and, if departing from Mendelssohn’s requirement for women’s voices, the boys’ choir did admirably while adding a certain innocence to proceedings.

Wrong play, but “If music be the food of love” then the LSO is indeed playing on – July is being spent in Aix-en-Provence with Louis Langrée, Valery Gergiev and Colin Davis, then to the BBC Proms and, in between the Royal Albert Hall dates, there’s a trip to the Black Creek Summer Festival (Toronto) with Lorin Maazel. Barbican Hall again in September.

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