A rich, magical blend of narration and music
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have admired Kenneth Branagh's work since "Henry V" and particularly "Much Ado About Nothing"; I admit that seeing his name on the front of this CD was what led me to purchase it. Not the formidable talent of the other performers (soprano Sylvia McNair, mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager), not the renown of the Berlin Philharmonic and conductor Claudio Abbado. Not even Mendelssohn's music itself. I am happy to say that each and every one of these elements is as marvelous as Branagh's narrative performance -- speeches from Oberon, Titania, Robin Goodfellow (Puck) and various sprites and fairies interspersed with Mendelssohn's music -- and, taken as a whole, they combine to create as nearly flawless a CD as you will ever find. No, it's not "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in its entirety: the pairs of warring and confused lovers are touched on only incidentally, as when Oberon berates Puck for having put the love charm in the wrong Athenian's eyes. Call it "A Midsummer Night's Dream" from the woodland spirits' point of view. It's sublime. An extra perk: Arthur Rackham's wonderful, weedy, tangled woodland drawings gracing the front of the CD booklet. I only wish they had been reproduced in full color inside the booklet (which includes all the speeches and songs) -- they are black-and-white there. The only problem I have with this recording, which may be the fault of my stereo system, is that the balance between narration and music could have been better. When I say that I mean decibel level, not relative amount of narration versus music. It seemed to me that playing the music at a comfortable volume left the narration soft and a little difficult to hear; turn up the volume on Branagh's narration and the following music was disproportionately loud. As I said, it could be entirely the fault of my CD player, and it's certainly not enough to merit giving this CD any less than 5 stars. I should also mention that Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 in A Major on this CD is excellent too. Give this CD to a Shakespeare fan, a Branagh fan, or anybody who loves good classical music."
Fine Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
John Kwok | New York, NY USA | 01/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic, Kenneth Branagh, Sylvia McNair and Angelika Kirchschlager are the main reasons why you should acquire this fine CD of excerpts from Mendelssohn's score for "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Branagh's eloquent acting is evident here again, as though he was a young Sir Laurence Olivier, providing a compelling reading of selected speeches from Shakespeare's play. Soprano Sylvia McNair and mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirschschlager are equally compelling to in their solos. Noted Mendelssohn interpreter Claudio Abbado leads the Berlin Philharmonic in a vibrant performance. Their performance of Mendelssohn's 4th "Italian" symphony is just as fine, though not nearly as revelatory as Abbado's earlier account on Deutsche Grammophon with the London Symphony Orchestra. There is a splendid CD to own if you wish to have a recording of some of Mendelssohn's most compelling orchestral music. However, I would not recommend it to those seeking the best recorded version of the 4th symphony. Yet Sony's sound engineers have produced among their finest recordings of Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic; only their classic recording of Beethoven's 9th Symphony is better."