The catalog doesn't need a new version of Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream, but this one is sung and spoken in German (hence the use of Sommernachtstraum on the cover), which is rare. It's reminder that Mendelssohn was setting a German translation of Shakespeare. Harnoncourt's performance is very fine. His speakers and singers are first-rate, and he evokes both the dreamy relaxation of the play and its mercurial swiftness. Tempos are on the fast side, phrasing is crisp without being terse, and the execution by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe could be mistaken for the Concertgebouw.
Mendelssohn wrote the overture to MND when he was 17, but he was thirty when he composed the rest of the music in 1840-41. Mendelssohn’s setting of Goethe’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night) is both one of his most curious and most inspired works. Goethe’s poem, dealing with pagan ceremonies at which the druids terrorize and banish the Christians with the demons of their own imagination, may be understood on a symbolic level: new ideas chasing out the old. But it also shows Mendelssohn in an unaccustomed light, with the familiar religious tones now standing for the heathen deity ‘Allvater’ and his followers.
In any event, Harnoncourt gives his all, and there are moments of quality music, such as the overture, that I was happy to encounter. Among the seven soloists (too many for the practical staging of a 30+ min. work), Thomas Hampson and Rene Pape are the standouts, not surprisingly. The Arnold Schoenberg Choir is expert, as always.