Mendelssohn: Elias (Elijah)

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn
WORKS: Elias (Elijah)
PERFORMER: Letizia Scherrer, Renée Morloc, Werner Güra, Michael Volle, Stuttgart Chamber Choir; Klassische Philharmonie Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius
CATALOGUE NO: 83.215 (hybrid CD/SACD)


One claim to authenticity is met here, in that Elijah was composed to German words. Beyond that, though, authenticity seems here to have given way to mere tradition, sometimes, if not always, to the detriment of what we know Mendelssohn was trying to achieve. Eight years before the 1846 Birmingham premiere, he wrote that he ‘imagined Elijah as a real prophet… strong, zealous and, yes, even bad-tempered, angry and brooding’. Michael Volle sings with considerable beauty, but he stays firmly within the bounds of good taste. It may say something about the whole atmosphere of the recording that the soloists are identified in the booklet by their voice-type rather than by the characters they represent. The orchestra uses modern instruments, though we are told they ‘are particularly interested in stylistic distinctions’, which would seem to mean restrained string vibrato. But for those who prefer to regard William Bartholomew’s English version as authentic, in that it was used for the Birmingham premiere, then the Decca version also offers a truly zealous and bad-tempered Bryn Terfel (albeit with moments of melting tenderness), the two great tenor arias exquisitely sung by John Mark Ainsley, and period instruments tuned at ‘authentic’ pitch (somewhere below A=440). Altogether it gives more than a glimpse of the grand opera Mendelssohn was never to write. But do look out for Carus’s soprano Letizia Scherrer, whose ringing F sharps in the first aria of Part 2 must surely compare with Jenny Lind’s, which the composer had in mind. If I’m not mistaken, a singer with a bright future. Roger Nichols