LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn
PERFORMER: Genia Kühmeier (soprano), Ann Hallenberg (alto), Lothar Odinius (tenor), Michael Nagy (baritone); Balthasar-Neumann Choir & Soloists; Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble/ Thomas Henglebrock
CATALOGUE NO: 88985362562
There’s a lot that’s excellent in this recording of what is, I think, a live performance in the Dortmund Konzerthaus, to judge from a few ‘getting-ready’ noises between items. It is in every way a big, dramatic interpretation, and as such absolutely in keeping with Mendelssohn’s ideal, as opposed to polite performances he had to endure of other people’s oratorios in which the disengagement of performers left him fuming. Michael Nagy is a powerful, sonorous Elijah, not merely a man of God but an out-and-out demagogue, fully justifying Ahab’s complaints about him causing trouble among the citizenry. Both soprano and alto soloists sing with pure tone, and in a live performance one can excuse the soprano’s distinct sharpening of a couple of high notes. As for the tenor, I confess that age has not wearied me of Richard Lewis’s peerless 1947 interpretation of the two wonderful arias; Lothar Odinius is good but… in my head I always hear Lewis’s golden tone on the word ‘shine’.
The whole interpretation is splendidly dramatic, with wide dynamic variations and silences given full value (though it’s naughty to ignore the ‘attacca subito’ after ‘Herr Gott Abrahams’), and my only real reservation is over a lack of clarity in the louder, fuller passages. Mendelssohn’s elegant inner orchestral parts tend to get swamped here, as do alto and tenor choral lines. If this is the price of dramatic interpretation, perhaps it has to be paid. But for me it’s just a touch too high.