MENDELSSOHN Midsummer Night's Dream / Chailly 4810778

Vivid performances of Mendelssohn favourites . . . Ashkar is a vibrant and stylish pianist whose love for these concertos shines through in the poetic way he plays them, and Chailly and the orchestra give solid but sensitive support.

If this album by Riccardo Chailly and his Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra were a cat, I'm sure I'd be stroking it all day long. There's just something about the sound they make -- the unity of the ensemble, the lively colours, the fine blend -- that positively demands a tactile response. I hope this winning team continues at full strength . . . Those heartfelt melodic lines and brilliant instrumental textures were born to be played with character and finesse . . . [the opening bars of the "Ruy Blas" overture] point the way forward with meaty brass chords, round and warm. What follows is equally well-judged, and very strokable. Chailly's adroit touch continues in the five "Midsummer Night's Dream" selections. He presses the accelerator in the Overture . . . but there's never a sense of unseemly haste. And instrumental details keep spreading bliss: taut timpani blows like the crack of thunder; the velvet horns, luxurious in the Nocturne's opening melody; and always the birdlike flutes, gambolling in the air . . . [Piano Concertos nos. 1 & 2]: [Saleem Ashkar is] a very fleet-fingered chap. In the G minor, the sunnier of the pair, he leaps about with athletic force, always a tone with the orchestra.

. . . [Overture to "Ruy Blas"]: there's rhythmic solidity, mellow brass and plangent pizzicatos, and a generous sense of heroism. And the sleek and gutsy Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly's baton swings into action with true Mendelssohnian dash . . . [Overture to "A Midsummernight¿s Dream"]: the playing is so nonchalant in its flare and finesse that it never feels rushed. One could believe this orchestra . . . truly has this music in its blood. Lyrcism is not laboured; Victorian sentimentality there is not a jot. The high point is the two Piano Concertos. Pianist Saleem Ashkar proves an ideal match for Chailly and the orchestra. He captures just the right balance of clarity, swiftness of attack, poetry and élan: every note shines with sun-reflecting clarity as the finales whirl along, Mendelssohn's limitless passagework wonderfully even and always musically shaped. Best of all, though, this feels like chamber music in which eavesdropping on the conversation of pianist and orchestra is more crucial than merely admiring the sound of their voices.

Mendelssohn and Leipzig are a natural combination . . . [Saleem Ashkar] gives big-scale virtuoso performances of the two concertos . . . it is exciting.

For collectors, the main item of interest on this disc is the original 1839 version of the overture "Ruy Blas" . . . it's fascinating to hear Mendelssohn's first thoughts . . . a well-filled disc. The performances are crisp and lively . . . the music is always kept moving. The piano concertos are brilliantly played, and soloist Ashkar copes well with the fast tempi. The recording is clean, open, and well balanced.

Riccardo Chailly, the Gewandhaus Orchestra and his soloist, Israeli pianist Saleem Ashkar, give us an ideal, new-minted view of Mendelssohn. Chailly's rapid but never driven tempi bring fresh and dazzling light to the ever-familiar "Ruy Blas" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream", relishing the opportunity for pinpoint, quicksilver brilliance complemented by warmth in the Nocturne and most of all, in the final pages of the Overture . . . The result is never less than exhilarating. Saleem Ashkar too, echoes Chailly's high-flying approach with a dexterity as immaculate as it is awe-inspiring, the finales of both concertos taken at a speed that less gifted pianists can only envy. The rush to the finishing post is breathtaking . . . you welcome an ideal poise in the slow movements, full of cool inflections that are personal without being mannered . . . Balance between pianist and orchestra is exemplary and all these performances lift the spirits, negating all notions of Victorian sentimentality.

. . . this entirely fresh recording by the venerable Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig comes up with some fresh takes. First is the lithe, dry reading of the "Midsummer Night's Dream" music itself . . . [you] will have to marvel at the crisp sound Chailly gets out of the Leipzigers, and at the sheer effort of will involved in making the chestnut Wedding March (track 6) sound as though the conductor and musicians were encountering it for the first time . . . [a] strong performance of the two piano concertos by Israeli Arab sensation Saleem Ashkar . . . Ashkar's readings show that he was listening to what was happening around him rather than simply showing off his considerable chops. The result is a pair of tight, quick performances, as much Chailly as Ashkar, that emphasize Mendelssohn's contrapuntal thinking. A well-above-average Mendelssohn release.