This recording documents Claudio Abbado’s last concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Even in this encounter, Abbado’s musical curiosity and open-mindedness can be seen in this performance of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique which he was conducting with the Berliner Philharmoniker for the very first time. The programme also includes Felix Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The juxtaposition of these works is also a fascinating idea as it throws into relief the early period of musical Romanticism. The two composers met for the first time in Rome in 1832. Berlioz was full of admiration for Mendelssohn, who for his part had difficulty putting up with Berlioz’s effusive behaviour, “this enthusiasm turned inside out, this desperation as presented to the ladies, this ingeniousness printed in Gothic type.” And the Symphonie fantastique alienated him. Particularly in the final Witch’s Sabbath, Mendelssohn saw “utter foolishness, contrived passion … mere grunting, shouting, screaming back and forth.”
His Midsummer Night’s Dream music, in which he congenially set the material of Shakespeare’s play to music, shows us his own ideal of Romantic composition. The overture from 1826 – a stroke of genius on the part of the 17-year old composer – captures the atmosphere and flavour of the world of the fairy kingdom in which the royal couple Oberon and Titania reign. In 1843, Mendelssohn followed up with 12 additional musical pieces, commissioned by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia for a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the New Palace in Potsdam. The results were a collection of instrumental, vocal and melodrama pieces, of which the Wedding March is probably the most famous. 1843 was also the year the composers met once again when Berlioz conducted the Symphonie fantastique in Leipzig. After an initial distance, they gradually began to understand each other better and better – culminating in a highly symbolic scene, when Berlioz and Mendelssohn exchanged their batons as mutual mementos.