Sunday 2 November 2014

Mendelssohn Elias

Mendelssohn Elias; Isokoski, Groop, Ainsley, Salomaa; Chapelle Royale, Orchestre des Champs-Elysee, Herreweghe; Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 18 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Re-issue of Herreweghe's 1993 live recording with strong line-up of solists

This set is a re-issue by Harmonia Mundi of Philippe Herreweghe's 1993 recording of Mendelssohn's Elias made with his choir, La Chapelle Royale & Collegium Vocale Gent with the Orchestre des Champs-Elysees, with soloists Soile Isokoski, Monica Groop, John Mark Ainsley, Petteri Salomaa and Delphine Collot. The recording was made live at performances in the Arsenal, Metz.

Whereas Paul McCreesh on his recent recording of Mendelssohn's Elijah (see my review) sought to base his performance on the forces used at the world premiere of the work, Herreweghe's takes a far looser approach. He uses period forces, with all the benefits that this brings to Mendelssohn's orchestrations, but uses far fewer singers and players than McCreesh. And he takes a rather mix-and-match attitude to the more awkward corners of the work, the quartets, trio and double-quartet. The two quartets are done by the soloists, there are soloists from the choir for the trio but the double-quartet is sung as a double chorus. This is something which commonly happens, it makes economic sense, but I think you benefit from having the octet sung by just eight singers.

Whilst Mendelssohn wrote the work setting a German text, he worked closely with the original translator on the English version which was used at the first performances. I have to admit that I far prefer the work in English, and never feel quite comfortable with it in German.

Despite these quibbles and caveats, I did rather enjoy this performance enormously. We often forget that Elias is relatively young man's music, Mendelssohn was only 37 when it was premiered and his writing for orchestra benefits from the litheness, vitality and strong definition that Herreweghe and his players bring to it, all vivid accents and dynamic contrasts. The chorus is similarly impressive and, whilst I miss the sense of 300 massed voices in the feeling weight and presence, Herreweghe's choir replace this with a strong attention to dramatic detail and a litheness of sound. All of the small effects are here, to telling effect. And in the dramatic moments, we have some singing which if not ultimately thrilling is very, very vivid.

The main soloists are a beautifully balanced group. Though they bring out the drama, their general approach is not as operatic as in some performances of this work, but then my first Elijah was Benjamin Luxon who was thrillingly dramatic in the role. Petteri Salomaa is a dramatic and intense, but also quite contained. He sings with a nice sense of line, which is essential in this music, but his voice lacks the real amplitude that you need here. Soile Isokoski makes a poised soprano soloist, there is little dramatic difference between her Widow and her Angel, but all is done with a fine sense of line and fluidity. Monica Groop is a rich voiced Angel and a quite understated Jezebel. John Mark Ainsley is finely focused and poised, but his performance is notable for its musicality rather than a sense of dramatic differentiation between characters. Delphine Collot contributes the short solo as the boy at the end of part one.

This is a budget priced disc so there is no libretto, but there is an article about the work.

Whatever the faults and quibbles, Herreweghe welds all of his forces into a vibrantly involving performance. Salomaa's opening recit was not the most thrilling I had heard, but this is followed by such a vivid account of the overture that I was drawn into the performance and found the whole thing vibrantly enthralling.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809 - 1847) - Elias [127.29]
Solie Isokoski (soprano)
Delphine Collo (soprano)
Monica Groop (alto)
John Mark Ainsley (tenor)
Petteri Salomaa (bass)
La Chapelle Royale & Collegium Vocale Gent
Orchestra des Champs Elysees
Philipoe Herreweghe (conductor)

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