PERFORMER: Yvonne Kenny, Anne Sofie von Otter, Thomas Allen, Anthony Rolfe Johnson/ Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
CATALOGUE NO: 432 984-2 DDD
In the early 1840s Mendelssohn felt drawn to the story of the prophet Elijah, with its background of conflicting divinities and religions, as inspiration for an oratorio. After Elijah’s first performance in Birmingham, in 1846, it was hailed as ‘the most popular oratorio in England’ beside those of Handel.
This recording, in English, conducted by Sir Neville Marriner, injects the essential musical fuel into the score and evokes the diverse dramatic contrasts of the work, bringing the whole oratorio vibrantly to life. The dynamic range, diction and sheer flexibility of the chorus, from their invocations of Baal to the delicate nuances of ‘He, watching over Israel’, is an extraordinary achievement. It is a pity the engineers could not maintain them in a constant perspective.
Thomas Allen has the vocal resonance and breadth of phrase to ensure Elijah is a powerful, commanding presence throughout, and as Obadiah, Anthony Rolfe Johnson’s ‘If with all your hearts’ is as exquisitely shaped and poignantly sung as you could wish. Anne Sofie von Otter offers beautiful mezzo sound and, since the pace for ‘O rest in the Lord’ is not mawkishly ponderous, this aria is particularly warm and moving.
Sadly, Yvonne Kenny sounds strained and uncomfortable. The benchmark soprano aria ‘Hear ye, Israel’ lacks the necessary focus and shape, and in some of the quartets her edgy quality threatens to spoil whole numbers. Thankfully this never quite happens.
Marriner’s tempi never jar and the Academy players provide a superb standard of accompaniment and obbligati. Elisse McDougall