Elijah, Op.70 – Oratorio in two parts to a text by Julius Schubring sourced from Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible [sung in English]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Anna Stéphany (mezzo-soprano),Robert Murray (tenor) & Christian Immler (baritone)
Choir of the Age of Enlightenment
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Reviewed by: Amanda-Jane Doran
Reviewed: 3 October, 2019
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Masaaki Suzuki joined the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment for a fascinating reading of Mendelssohn’s dramatic Elijah. Mendelssohn consciously modelled his choral drama on the works of his musical idols, Bach and Handel, and Suzuki was ideally placed to lead this core Victorian work. Period instruments of moderate numbers combined with a chorus of thirty-two handpicked young singers to paint the vivid backdrop of Old Testament strife and heroic reconciliation. From the opening chords we are in Bach’s harmonic world, echoes of the St Matthew Passion frame the work.
Christian Immler was in fine voice as the prophet, a thoughtful, refined baritone with rich resonance and spectacular diction. The protagonist dramatically opens the work before the appearance of the Overture, which built tension and suspense, Suzuki teasing rich colours, a sound of Berliozian splendour, magically conjured; Suzuki’s command was superbly calibrated through every mood
The role of the chorus is central to the narrative, at once reflective and reactive, propelling the story on. The Choir of the Age of Enlightenment’s tone was focussed and expressive, expanding to belie their numbers in moments of high drama.
Carolyn Sampson’s ‘Hear ye Israel’ opened the second half with moving intensity and silver-honeyed mobility: a singer-actress of the highest calibre. Each soloist delivered afresh. Anna Stéphany’s Angel impressed with warmth and feeling and Robert Murray, a late replacement, was fervently persuasive in the various tenor roles. Other parts were taken by members of the chorus, including Sofia Larsson and Emma Walshe, who both sang with engagement and lovely tone.
As an opus Elijah synthesises ideas of sin and redemption that link the Old and New Testaments; Mendelssohn’s great achievement is to create something that integrates foundational religious music of the past with his own forward-looking musical personality. Suzuki seamlessly wove all these elements together in a compelling performance.