Side One: Mint Minus Minus (often quieter than this grade)
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus
- An outstanding Decca pressing of this famous group of excerpts, here with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
- A spectacular Demo Disc Quality Orchestral recording - big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic
- The combination of sound and performance on the best of the Maag-led Londons and Deccas simply cannot be overestimated
- Maag's performance here is widely considered definitive and for once we agree completely with the consensus of both critics and audiophiles alike
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Audiophiles have known of this record's sublime sonic qualities for decades. As our stereos get better, so do amazingly natural recordings such as this one.
Speakers Corner did a reissue of this record on heavy vinyl, which was quite good -- too fat in the mid-bass but otherwise acceptable. It sure doesn't sound like this though. Not even close. This is the real thing. You won't find too many 180 gram records that sound like this one, if you can find any.
This vintage Decca pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to "see" the performers, and feeling as if you are listening live to the London Symphony Orchestra, this is the record for you. It's what vintage all analog recordings are known for -- this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What the Best Sides of A Midsummer Night’s Dream Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1958
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
The rich, textured, rosin-on-the-bow lower strings on this record are to die for. Find me a modern record that sounds like this and I will eat it. And by "modern record" we hasten to include both modern recordings and modern remasterings of older recordings. NO ONE alive today can make a record that sound even remotely as good as this. To call it a lost art is to understand something that few vinyl-loving audiophiles appear to have grasped since the advent of the Modern Reissue, which is simply this: they can't begin to compete.
After twenty years of trying and literally hundreds of failed examples the engineers of today have yet to make a record that sounds as powerful and life-like as this London from almost fifty years ago.
Fortunately for the both of us we are not trying to make a record that sounds the way this one does. We're just trying to find one, and folks, we found the hell out of this one.
Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren't veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we've heard them all.
Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.
Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.
What We're Listening For on A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Incidental Music
- Overture Op. 21
- Scherzo, Op. 61 No. 1
- Ye Spotted Snakes, Op. 61 No. 3
- Intermezzo, Op. 61 No. 5
- Nocturne, Op. 61 No. 7
- Wedding March, Op. 61 No. 9
- Dance Of The Clowns, Op. 61 No. 11
- Finale, Op. 61 No. 12
Mendelssohn wrote the incidental music, Op. 61, for A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1842, 16 years after he wrote the overture. It was written to a commission from King Frederick William IV of Prussia. Mendelssohn was by then the music director of the King's Academy of the Arts and of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. A successful presentation of Sophocles' Antigone on 28 October 1841 at the New Palace in Potsdam, with music by Mendelssohn (Op. 55) led to the King asking him for more such music, to plays he especially enjoyed. A Midsummer Night's Dream was produced on 14 October 1843, also at Potsdam. The producer was Ludwig Tieck. This was followed by incidental music for Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus (Potsdam, 1 November 1845; published posthumously as Op. 93) and Jean Racine's Athalie (Berlin, 1 December 1845; Op. 74).
The A Midsummer Night's Dream overture, Op. 21, originally written as an independent piece 16 years earlier, was incorporated into the Op. 61 incidental music as its overture, and the first of its 14 numbers. There are also vocal sections and other purely instrumental movements, including the Scherzo, Nocturne and "Wedding March". The vocal numbers include the song "Ye spotted snakes" and the melodramas "Over hill, over dale", "The Spells", "What hempen homespuns", and "The Removal of the Spells". The melodramas served to enhance Shakespeare's text.
Act 1 was played without music. The Scherzo, with its sprightly scoring, dominated by chattering winds and dancing strings, acts as an intermezzo between acts 1 and 2. The Scherzo leads directly into the first melodrama, a passage of text spoken over music. Oberon's arrival is accompanied by a fairy march, scored with triangle and cymbals.
The vocal piece "Ye spotted snakes" ("Bunte Schlangen, zweigezüngt") opens act 2's second scene. The second intermezzo comes at the end of the second act. Act 3 includes a quaint march for the entrance of the Mechanicals. We soon hear music quoted from the overture to accompany the action. The Nocturne includes a solo horn doubled by bassoons, and accompanies the sleeping lovers between acts 3 and 4. There is only one melodrama in act 4. This closes with a reprise of the Nocturne to accompany the mortal lovers' sleep.
The intermezzo between acts 4 and 5 is the famous Wedding March, probably the most popular single piece of music composed by Mendelssohn, and one of the most ubiquitous pieces of music ever written.
Act 5 contains more music than any other, to accompany the wedding feast. There is a brief fanfare for trumpets and timpani, a parody of a funeral march, and a Bergamask dance. The dance uses Bottom's braying from the overture as its main thematic material.
The play has three brief epilogues. The first is introduced with a reprise of the theme of the "Wedding March" and the fairy music of the overture. After Puck's speech, the final musical number is heard – "Through this house give glimmering light" ("Bei des Feuers mattem Flimmern"), scored for soprano, mezzo-soprano and women's chorus. Puck's famous valedictory speech "If we shadows have offended" is accompanied, as day breaks, by the four chords first heard at the very beginning of the overture, bringing the work full circle and to a fitting close.