Sir John Eliot Gardiner returns to conduct the LSO in their latest recording of Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream, released on LSO Live.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner is a long-standing friend of the London Symphony Orchestra, having conducted a massive 82 concerts since 2005, 27 of which have been dedicated wholly or partly to pieces written by the German composer Felix Mendelssohn. Between 2014 and 2016 Gardiner and the Orchestra again turned the focus on to Mendelssohn’s symphonic music with a series of concerts surveying his symphonic output. LSO Live has recorded all of these concerts, capturing an entire cycle of the great composer for posterity.
The latest release in this award-winning cycle is A Midsummer Night’s Dream – a semi-staged production, produced to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, featuring three recent acting graduates from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. This particular release is special, in the sense that it moves away from Mendelssohn’s symphonic works. Gardiner wanted to keep the focus of the concert on Mendelssohn, rather than about the Shakespeare play, but use snippets of the play as accents to the music. He said:
'We’re doing a Mendelssohn cycle, so let’s make the Mendelssohn the main thing, and just reduce the Shakespeare play to the bare essentials, making it an incidental text to the mainstream which is the music. I think it works really really well.’
Aged only 17, Mendelssohn wrote a concert overture for the Shakespeare play. Only a few years before his death, Mendelssohn was asked to produce incidental music for a production of the play, into which he incorporated the existing Overture. The incidental music includes the world-famous Wedding March.
Gardiner decided to pull apart both the play and the score, and mish-mash his favourite and the most exciting parts together to create a lively and dynamic performance for both the actors and the orchestra. He comments:
'Mendelssohn’s music is so enchanting and so evocative of the atmosphere of the play. It is really an orchestral suite with wonderful Shakespearian little vignettes.'
Three acting alumni from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama joined the LSO to portray the characters from the play between the pieces played by the orchestra. The LSO were joined by Ceri-Lyn Cissone (Hermia/Fairy/Titania), Alex Knox (Lysander/Puck), Frankie Wakefield (Oberon/Theseus) and Gardiner’s own Monteverdi Choir. Having up-and-coming actors perform in the production is something Gardiner believed was vital:
'It's very important. My Monteverdi choir has an apprentice scheme where we work with graduates from colleges and conservatoires from all across the British Isles. The people who are on the brink of music profession but are not 100% certain if it is what they should do. We give them a sort of experimental year, to dip their toes gingerly in the waters to see if it is really for them.'
The concert took place on 16 February 2016 during the year-long celebration of Shakespeare's quatercentenary. Over the entire year, the artistic community united to celebrate this major event and Gardiner’s special version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the perfect tribute to one of the greatest English playwrights in history.
A Midsummer Night's Dream has been described as ‘magical’ by The Times and ‘lovingly attentive’ by The Guardian, and can be listened to on Spotify and Apple Music, where you’ll also find rest of Sir John’s Eliot Gardiner’s Mendelssohn cycle.
The final release of Gardiner’s Mendelssohn Cycle will be Symphony No 2 'Lobgesang', which will be released on LSO Live on 1 September 2017. Follow the cycle on Apple Music or Spotify to keep up-to-date with the latest additions.
To purchase your own copy of Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Sir John Eliot Gardiner's Mendelssohn Cycle as well as other LSO recordings, visit lsolive.co.uk or listen on Spotify or Apple Music.