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CD Review

Felix Mendelssohn

  • Cantata "Die erste Walpurgisnacht", Op. 60
  • Overture "Merestille und gluckliche Fahrt", Op. 27
  • Overture "Ruy Blas", Op. 95
  • Overture "Die schone Melusine", Op. 32
  • Overture "Die Hebriden", Op. 26
Juan Oncina, tenor
Robert Amis El Hage, bass
Giovanna Fioroni, mezzo-soprano
Choir & Orchestra of the Torino Symphony Orchestra RAI/Peter Maag
Arts Archives 43042-2 78m ADD
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It's been a decade since these performances were last reviewed at Classical Net, and much has changed in the classical music industry. However, the name of Peter Maag still commands respect from collectors who cherish his Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Mozart. Before he died, Maag took a handful of second-rate European ensembles and made some excellent recordings of all three composers on the Arts Music label. However, unlike his Beethoven cycle or Mendelssohn in Madrid, this Arts Archives disc shows a younger Maag working his magic, and it proves an ideal supplement to the conductor's well-regarded work on Decca.

Die erste Walpurgisnacht is a fun cantata based around Walpurgis Night, which has come to be associated with witches, and hell, and all that entails. Naturally, this is Mendelssohn; those expecting a Symphonie Fantastique will be sorely disappointed. But like I said, this is fun, and the pagans still get the coolest moments in this work. It's not recorded all that often, and must have been virtually unknown in 1979. Typically for Italian Radio ensembles, the playing is good without being especially great. However, there is plenty of dramatic sweep and a real "feel" for the theatre, and for some, that may be enough. The singing is also what one might expect; enthusiasm trumps overall polish. Remember, this was before Christoph von Dohnányi got his hands on the score and promptly recorded it twice with world-class orchestras in Vienna and Cleveland. The soloists are just fine – this is not a work you purchase for the soloists – and the sound is also surprisingly good.

With the overtures, we drop the chorus and enter classic Maag territory. Aside from Claudio Abbado and perhaps Leonard Bernstein, few lavished such care on these significant orchestral works. Though the RAI forces do not match the London Symphony's tonal qualities for Abbado, Maag is freer in expression and Mendelssohn fans will find a great deal to enjoy. There are numerous great recordings of all these pieces, especially of Op. 26, but the conductor and his forces find all the drama and charm you could wish for. Not for everyone, perhaps, but collectors will find a great deal to appreciate.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman