The Glyndebourne Festival continues its admirable project of releasing recordings of live performances from its archive with a 2006 production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." While there are details in which it may not compete with several of the finest recordings, including Britten's own, it is an entirely engaging account of the opera. Its strengths include the compelling sweep of Ilan Volkov's conducting and the performances of several of the leads. Volkov conveys a confident grasp of the score's momentum. It's an impressive accomplishment, since in less assured hands it's easy for the opera to come off as episodic, but Volkov sustains a dramatic urgency that drives the sometime high, sometimes raw, energy of the live performance. The London Philharmonic Orchestra starts off shakily in the delicately filigreed prelude, but quickly pulls together and the playing thereafter is secure and gorgeously colorful. The strings' tone, particularly when Britten's scoring is at its most transparent, is exceptionally sweet. Perhaps it's an issue of engineering balance, but the fairies' brightly percussive accompaniment is more prominent here than in most versions, although that's not necessarily a bad thing because it accentuates the weirdness of their supernatural world.
The outstanding vocal performance is that of Matthew Rose as Bottom; it's easily in the running for the finest recorded version of the role. Rose's bass is unusually flexible and resonant, and he inflects it with unusual subtlety. He also comes across as a natural comedian, so the humor is entirely successful, spontaneous, and unforced. Other highlights include counter tenor Bejun Mehta's imperious, magisterial Oberon and 11-year-old Jack Morlen's raucously brazen Puck. The quartet of lovers is very fine, especially in the ferocity of high-energy fights and in the lovely awakening scene. The members of Trinity Boys Choir, led by David Swinson, also deserve high commendation. The sound includes some audience noise but it's minimally distracting and is overall never less than acceptable.