What a racket! The heathen inhabitants of the Brocken are ordered to come armed with pitchforks in “Kommt mit Zacken und mit Gabeln” and to give Christian missionaries a good fright in the riotous howling of the “Rundgeheule.” The young Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy set Goethe’s highly allusive ballad as a furious tone painting situated between the symphony and the choral ballad and magnificently bringing out the fine humor of this German Prince of Poets. Along with three concert overtures, “The First Walpurgis Night” now concludes the Musikkollegium Winterthur’s highly acclaimed MDG Mendelssohn cycle under its principal conductor Douglas Boyd.
Sound and Fury
Behind its sound and fury, “The First Walpurgis Night” is a highly topical argument in favor of religious tolerance. The wild nightmare, very much of earthly origin, nevertheless is unrivaled when it comes to noisemaking and evidently gets the job done: at the end the light emerges victorious, and no pathos would be too much to praise its smoke-free appearance. The soloists and Singakademie of Zurich indeed do have splendid fun with this opulent musical magic.
While Mendelssohn valued Goethe’s poetry above all other literary forms, he picked apart Victor Hugo’s tragedy Ruy Blas. However, this did not stop him from composing an overture to it for a charitable cause and in response to an urgent request. For a repeat performance he perhaps only half in jest entitled it “Overture for the Theater Pension Fund” instead of using the original name. Mendelssohn’s overtures, especially The Hebrides, continue to number among his most beloved compositions. “The Fair Melusine” also fascinated Richard Wagner in his time. The “fishy” beginning of this tale of a water sprite later occurs in the overture to Das Rheingold!
True to Life
Mendelssohn always rejected verbal interpretations of his programmatic works; he thought that musical ideas were too specific to be put into words. The music by itself can be enjoyed all the more impartially – especially in the high-resolution and detail-rich three-dimensional 2+2+2 sound picture distinguishing MDG’s SACDs. But beware: the enthrallingly graphic reproduction of “Walpurgnis Night” may give sensitive individuals a scare! Simply wonderful!