Original Soundtrack

A Midsummer Night's Dream [1934]

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Had Max Reinhardt's 1934 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (the one starring James Cagney, Dick Powell, and Mickey Rooney) been done 20 or 30 years later than it was, there's little doubt that a soundtrack album would have been forthcoming -- one of the biggest-budgeted movies ever released by Warner Bros., this picture had prestige written all over it, and the studio did arrange a live national radio broadcast of the entire score, conducted by Korngold, to promote the movie. In 1934, however, there was no practical way to release even the highlights of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's adaptation of Felix Mendelssohn's music for the film, short of putting out a set of five 78 rpm records; as the record industry was barely solvent in the middle of the Great Depression, and Warner Bros. had no in-house label of its own, and the resulting set would have been far more expensive than admission to the movie, nothing was forthcoming. This 1997 recording of a hour's worth of the 116 minutes of music that Korngold prepared for the 140 minute movie makes up for seven decades of neglect -- Gerd Albrecht is true to Korngold's approach at the podium, conducting the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and the Rundfunkchor Berlin, and a cast of singers fill in the vocal parts of the score, as well as some of the more musical acting parts. Fans of the film will delight in the rescue of deleted sections of the score, such as the serenade to have been sung by Demetrius (adapted from a Mendelssohn song) -- there's not a note of music sung or played on this CD that is less than gorgeous, and even Mendelssohn purists who might object to the notion of the adaptation will love the notion of a pastiche of the composer's work -- listening to this disc is like plunging into a huge, beautiful, sweet sonic "cake" baked out of the composer's most lovely music, drawn from the symphonies, lieder, and other sources. The familiar music has been dressed up in a post-Romantic fashion, with embellishments to the orchestration intended to overcome the limitations of movie sound in 1934, and the whole CD is a kind of total immersion in the composer and the movie, sort of A Midsummer Night's Dream-squared. The acting in the few lines of dialogue is on the generic side, but the singing is spot-on and easily rates as some of the most charming performances of Mendelssohn material to grace records in recent years -- and the whole disc is a gorgeous account of a profoundly beautiful and influential film score.