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Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Felix: Elijah CD

 Diapason d’Or de l’Année 2013 award


Felix Mendelssohn Bartholy

This CD can be pre-ordered by clicking the Amazon link

Rosemary Joshua soprano
Sarah Connolly mezzo-soprano
Robert Murray tenor
Simon Keenlyside baritone
Taplow Youth Choir
Ulster Youth Chamber Choir
Chetham’s Chamber Choir
North East Youth Choir
Wrocław Philharmonic Choir
Gabrieli Consort & Players
Paul McCreesh conductor

was recorded in August 2011

will be released 28 August 2012

Awards:   quotation of the Gabrieli newsletter: “Finally, I’m delighted to be able to tell you that Gabrieli has won not one but two “Diapason D’Or”, a celebrated French media award for recordings. News of our award for A New Venetian Coronation 1595 reached us last month, and just today we have heard that the same award for Elijah will be announced in the June edition of Diapason magazine.”

Photos of the Recording session

Sound bites

Geoffrey Norris, Daily Telegraph, 14.9.2012

” … In defining the lyrical strands that run through Elijah he is fortunate in having soloists of the calibre of Simon Keenlyside to sing Lord God of Abraham, tenor Robert Murray in If with all your hearts, Rosemary Joshua in Hear ye, Israel and Sarah Connolly in Oh rest in the Lord. Such familiar moments in Elijah sound newly minted here, McCreesh approaching them with polished, fluent phrasing and using the period instruments of his orchestra to underpin emphases and to add vibrant colour.  …”

Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill, 7.9.2012

” … Keenlyside sings Elijah beautifully and intelligently with a very fine sense of line and lovely feeling for the words. His delivery of It is enough is one of the most moving that I have heard. And he does not eschew singing very quietly, his phrase to the Widow Give me thy son is stunning. But, at the big moments, he can’t disguise that his voice lacks the bigness, the amplitude that would be ideal in this role and, quite simply, there are one or two moments when it goes lower than his comfort zone. His singing of the arias Is not His word like a fire is wonderfully vivid and vigorous, but he doesn’t quite fill the vocal line the way I want. One small point, Keenlyside does not seem to be able to settle on one particular pronunciation of the word Israel.

But his interpretation is well aligned to McCreesh’s interpretation, though this performance is dramatic, it is not particularly operatic. Here McCreesh’s experience conducting earlier oratorios comes to the fore and we experience Mendelssohn as the heir of Handel, Haydn and Bach, rather than as opera composer manqué. … “

Chris O’Reilly, Newsletter of Prestoclassical.co.uk, 27.8.2012

Ever since their fantastic Prom performance last summer, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Mendelssohn’s Elijah from Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort & Players. They went into the studio (well Watford Colosseum actually) the week after the Prom but I only heard the results in full for the first time last week.

At the time of its first performances in Birmingham Town Hall in 1846, Elijah was hailed as one of the great oratorios alongside Handel’s ‘Messiah’. It became by far the most popular oratorio of the 19th Century but seems to have fallen from grace a little since then. It tells the story of the prophet with imposing grandeur, inspirational orchestration and beautiful arias, recitatives and choruses.

Mendelssohn revised the work the year after the premiere for the 1847 London performance, and it is that version which is generally heard today. For this recording McCreesh also essentially uses that version, but uses the Birmingham premiere as the basis for many other decisions, replicating both the size of the orchestra (a very large string ensemble of 92 players, with doubled woodwind, trumpets, drums and ophicleides) and a chorus of over 300 made of the Gabrieli Singers and reinforced by the talented Gabrieli Young Singers’ Scheme and the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir.

The use of nineteenth century instruments changes the sound world entirely from what you might be used to hearing, with slide trumpets creating a rasping edge to the sound and tremendous power and depth provided by serpents and ophicleides (including a contrabass model known as the ‘monstre’ borrowed from America as that is the only similar instrument remaining in world in a playable condition!) and huge drums.

The sound of such a large string orchestra playing entirely on gut strings and with very little vibrato is both compelling and beautiful, yet still has the range of character to play both lightly and delicately and also with richness and intensity.

The four solo singers – Rosemary Joshua, Sarah Connolly, Robert Murray and Simon Keenlyside – are all in fine voice. Keenlyside delivers a committed account of the role of Elijah, and you do hear much of the anger and moral struggle which the character possesses. Maybe not as forceful as it could be, nor as heart-felt, but then this is an oratorio not an opera, and in the ensembles the four voices blended excellently.

The other big element in the success of this recording is the huge choir, who sing with an immediacy and consistency of phrasing which you wouldn’t think possible from such a large group. Equally implausible is the delicacy and tenderness which they can create, whilst it almost goes without saying that at the other extreme, the climaxes are truly stunning. McCreesh’s tempi are well judged and help build the real power and drama of this performance. This is big, grand choral singing of the Victorian scale, not always subtle but hugely effective.

In all this is staggeringly good. Approaching the work in this way fills a gap which I didn’t even realise was there, but now I’ve heard it I think it will be first choice for a while to come. Thoroughly recommended.

 Nicholas Kenyon, The Observer, 23.9. 2012

” … and there is no danger of religiosity in the fresh-voiced solos of Rosemary Joshua, Sarah Connolly and Simon Keenlyside: “O rest in the Lord” and “For the mountains shall depart” flow with genuine fervour. In all, a spectacularly successful reinvention of the British choral tradition.”

Roger Nichols, BBC Music Magazine, November 2012

” … Of the soloists, Sarah Connolly sings with mellifluous tone and Simon Keenlyside is an Elijah of spirit and intelligence: he may not have the sheer weight of a Bryn Terfel, but he’s alive to every shift of meaning and his diction is, as ever, impeccable….”

Anthony Tommassini, The New York Times, 28.9.2012

” … Ms. Cvilak sings with shimmering sound and elegance. In different ways, the ethereal Mr. Bostridge and the commanding Mr. Keenlyside bring alive the dark imagery of Owen’s verse.”


{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jane September 25, 2012 at 10:59 am

Hi again,
Just adding that I am delighted to see that the Elijah CD is back near the top of the classical chart at number 6 this week, possibly thanks to that launch in London last week.

Jane September 24, 2012 at 8:27 am

I went to the launch of the Elijah CD in London last Wednesday, the timing of which did seem a little strange, since it had already been released. Anyway it was all very pleasant, I met Paul McCreesh, chatted briefly with him and he kindly autographed my copy of the CD. However, there was no footage, nor even any mention of Simon whatsoever!!! Now as a Simon supporter, there is no denying that I am somewhat biassed in this regard, but that aside, it did seem odd not to make any reference at all to the man who sang the title role!

Sue September 16, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Link to the Telegraph review of Elijah. This recording ‘…a definite first choice’


Petra September 13, 2012 at 6:33 am

Simon said the painting took 9 hours and for the performances it will be a “semi-tattoo” as he called it, a temporary one. I only hope that is is really temporary and won’t irritate his scin.

DK September 13, 2012 at 6:13 am

Hi Jane, yes, it’s the same photograph, printed on semi-glossy stock. I guess I will keep this year’s calendar instead of consigning it to a recycling bin next year! I wonder what the Met’s posters will look like.

I do wonder how long it takes to do the body paint…though I suppose it is something like a temporary tattoo (?).

My copy of the Elijah CD arrived, and my, the recording quality is spectacular. The gorgeous colours and textures of the music are brought out brilliantly. Despite the masses of performers, the precision of the singing and playing and the use of period instruments gives it a surprising lightness…at times it simply shimmers. And I love how Simon makes Elijah not just some bombastic prophet, but touchingly human.

Jane September 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm

I was delighted to hear on Radio 3 this morning that the Elijah CD had gone straight into the classical chart at Number 4……it would have been even better if Petroc could have mentioned the soloists’ names!! He mentioned everyone else, including Uncle Tom Cobley…. if you get my drift!

Hello DK it would be great to see that calendar cover of Simon as Prospero, though I guess it is the one that we have already seen of him staring intently into the distance, decked out in his body artwork! Gosh the poor man will shortly be subjected to that. I wonder what it does to your skin?!

Sue August 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Well, my Elijah cd has arrived – hoping my neighbours like it!
After enjoying last year’s Prom it’s a luxury to be able to listen carefully to the subtleties of the performance – remarkable considering the scale of the forces. And a good booklet with the cd.
Its also touching to think of Simon using this as a study piece with John Cameron in his RNCM days, as he described in his BBC ‘Voices’ interview. (in Press Articles October 2004)
Thanks, Ally, for the link to the Elijah videos which add to the enjoyment.

DK August 26, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Pre-ordered a copy of Elijah from the UK (seems only an mp3 is available in the US at this time) and received an email today that it’s been shipped…a couple of days ahead of scheduled release it seems! (Not a complaint, mind you!) It is nice to know that this supports musical education.

BTW fans may be interested to know that a photo of Simon Keenlyside as Prospero in The Tempest graces the cover of the Metropolitan Opera’s season calendar that is sent to guild members and subscribers, as well as some of the ticket stubs.


Ally August 24, 2012 at 7:01 pm

There is a new video: http://vimeo.com/47894770
Conductor Paul McCreesh and Simon talking about Elijah. Video is OK but audio is out-of-sync – unfortunately!

Sue August 24, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Elijah CD scheduled to be on CD Review Radio 3, Sat 24 Aug sometime after 10am.

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