Notes and Editorial Reviews
We have been in need of a satisfying version of this oratorio in English. The recent Hickox version (Chandos) failed to fill the bill on account of indifferent choral singing and mainly unsatisfactory soloists. On the whole this one proves the answer. Marriner's crisp, on-the-dot yet sensitive direction fulfils all the score's demands. The many and varied choruses are carefully judged as regards speeds and dynamics and Marriner draws from his (professional?) choir singing to rival that on the recommendable Sawallisch (Philips) set, sung in German. Words are clearly enunciated even if they are occasionally occluded because of a somewhat too backward recording (that troublesome fault again); the Leipzig Radio Choir (Philips) still holds the
palm as regards clear tone and incisive accentuation, which may have something to do with the sharper sound of German consonants. Marriner's singers nicely differentiate between adherents of Baal and of the true God. Then Marriner happily follows Sawallisch, as Hickox did not, in assigning to soloists the quartets and double quartets rather than giving them to the chorus in the bad old way. This provides the textural contrasts Mendelssohn obviously envisaged. The orchestral playing is as well groomed as one would expect from this source with a special word of praise to the oboe soloist's refined contribution to "For the mountains shall depart".
The role of Elijah can seldom have been sung so firmly and resonantly, at least in recent times, as it is here by Thomas Allen, and he brings the appropriate feeling to his solos, each of which is phrased immaculately. It may be a carping criticism to suggest that sometimes beauty of sound takes precedence over dramatic delivery of the words. I am thinking in particular of the middle section of "It is enough", a corollary of which is a failure always to pierce to the core of Elijah's dilemmas or to suggest quite the fire and inner conviction of the Old Testament prophet as, say, Harold Williams used to do in the distant past and Theo Adam managed more recently on the Sawallisch version. These two were bass-baritones, able thus to fill the lower portions of the role with stronger tone than can Allen, a true baritone. But as a whole, his is a convincing and thoughtful portrayal.
Nobody could ask for the mezzo's music to be sung more fluently and beautifully than it is by von Otter, her two solos taken at a flowing pace that quite silences the criticism of sentimentality often brought against them. As a contrast Jean Rigby brings a tougher, more dramatic voice to depict Jezebel's imprecations. Anthony Rolfe Johnson's mellifluous tenor and caring manner is Just right for Obadaiah's music: he is at his most eloquent in the juniper tree recitative, the still centre of the whole work.
Doubts arise only over the contribution of Yvonne Kenny. She is a straightforward and honest interpreter of all her music, and conveys urgency as the stricken Widow, but her tone really has too much edge to it and her phrasing is too anonymous for "Hear ye Israel". Turn to Isobel Baillie's first, 1929 recording of the piece not long ago available on a Pearl LP and you hear a purer, steadier voice and a more thought-through reading, not to forget Ameling in German for Sawallisch. John Connell's resonant bass is heard advantageously in the concerted numbers. Kim Begley is properly fiery as Ahab, Jamie Hopkins properly celestial in signalling the answer to Elijah's appeal for rain. With the reservation already voiced, the recording is full, spacious and well-focused.
-- Gramophone [10/1992]
Works on This Recording
Elijah, Op. 70 by Felix Mendelssohn
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Tenor),
Thomas Allen (Baritone),
Anne Sofie von Otter (Soprano),
Jean Rigby (Mezzo Soprano),
Jamie Hopkins (Boy Soprano),
Anne Dawson (Soprano),
Kim Begley (Tenor),
John Connell (Bass),
Yvonne Kenny (Soprano)
Sir Neville Marriner
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields,
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chorus
Written: 1846-1847; Germany
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