Saleem Abboud Ashkar / Riccardo Chailly

Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night's Dream; Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

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One might think that Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream incidental music was a work about which all that could be said has been said, but this entirely fresh recording by the venerable Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig comes up with some fresh takes. First is the lithe, dry reading of the Midsummer Night's Dream music itself, the most ethereal product of Mendelssohn's teenage years. Some may miss the accretions of Victorian sweetness in conductor Riccardo Chailly's reading of the work, but even those listeners will have to marvel at the crisp sound Chailly gets out of the Leipzigers, and at the sheer effort of will involved in making the chestnut Wedding March (track 6) sound as though the conductor and musicians were encountering it for the first time. On top of this is a genuine world premiere of an early version of the Ruy Blas overture, as it was first performed in 1839 at the Gewandhaus itself, and strong performance of the two piano concertos by Israeli Arab sensation Saleem Ashkar. Nobody would put the concertos at the top of a list of Mendelssohn's compositions, but Ashkar's readings show that he was listening to what was happening around him rather than simply showing off his considerable chops. The result is a pair of tight, quick performances, as much Chailly as Ashkar, that emphasize Mendelssohn's contrapuntal thinking. A well-above-average Mendelssohn release.

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