Mendelssohn: Elijah, Op. 70

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Profil
WORKS: Elijah, Op. 70
PERFORMER: Andrea Rost, Letizia Scherrer, Barbara Fleckenstein (soprano), Marjana Lipov≥ek (alto), Herbert Lippert, Thomas Cooley (tenor), Michael Volle (bass); Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Wolfgang Sawallisch

Mendelssohn envisaged Elijah as a fiery, hot-tempered prophet, not to say a bipolar one (as I mentioned in my review of Jun Märkl’s recent Naxos recording, December 2010). Here he is supported by an orchestra rightly wedded to extremes and a chorus with high energy levels and the crispest enunciation. Wolfgang Sawallisch’s speeds may be sensible, but he does his experienced best to project the psychological drama of the Old Testament story.
Sadly, not all the soloists are attuned to this approach. The most vigorous solo singing comes from the Slovenian mezzo-soprano Marjana Lipovs˘ek, who imbues her non-virtuosic part with considerable dramatic interest. But Michael Volle in the crucial role of the prophet is too well-mannered and lacks the sheer power required to ride the orchestra at the climactic moments. His rendition also lacks variety of vocal colour, and on the larger scale, there’s not enough difference between lyrical passages such as ‘Es ist genug’ and his condemnation of King Ahab.
The tenor Herbert Lippert belongs to the clear, reedy type personified by Peter Schreier. During this live recording he warms up noticeably after a bland start, but in his first aria he battles Sawallisch momentarily over tempo and near the end his lovely aria ‘Dann werden die Gerechten’ is rather distantly recorded. Andrea Rost sings gustily and the high F sharps Mendelssohn wrote with soprano Jenny Lind in mind find her already pushing the tone. There are no singer biographies in the booklet and it’s not always clear which soprano is singing what. Roger Nichols