Mendelssohn · Elijah
Elijah / Elias
German oratorio Opus 70 in two movements
performed by Peter Lika, Heidi Elisabeth Meier,
Jolantha Michalska-Taliaferro, Hans Peter Blochwitz,
Maulbronn Cantor Choir (Kantorei Maulbronn),
Members of the SWR-Symphony-Orchestra
Baden-Baden and Freiburg
Conductor: Jürgen Budday
A concert recording from the church of the German
UNESCO World Heritage Site Maulbronn Monastery
HD Recording · DDD · Double Album · c. 136 Minutes
endelssohn's Elijah, one of the most important oratorios of the nineteenth century, premiered in Birmingham in 1846 and was emphatically celebrated both by the public and the press. According to a contemporary review, Mendelssohn turned music "into a grand sacred service". Elijah is a biblical figure, and consequently the libretto is composed entirely from biblical texts. The oratorio lacks a continuous plot. Rather, important excerpts from the life of the prophet are strung together like snapshots, some of which are highly dramatic.
The prophet's ascension into heaven concludes a series of powerful, dramatic and pathetic circumstances, effectively depicted by Mendelssohn music. The oratorio ends both with a somewhat mystical reference to the Messiah as the figure who truly consummates faith and the divine work, as well as a vision of divine grandeur.
Despite the lack of a continuous plot, Mendelssohn manages to create gripping, dramatic episodes. One example is the scene in which Baal's priests are derided by Elijah and become extremely irritated; their abandonment is made evident in an ingenious way: "O Baal, hear us!" - intermission - Baal does not reply! Then in total, moving contrast is Elijah' prayer "Lord God of Abraham" or the soprano aria "Listen Israel". This alternation of dramatic and lyrical sections defines the work. The chorus plays a special, important role. It sustains the action over long segments, taking the part of the people or of Baal's priests; elsewhere, it slips into the role of the community of the faithful ("Blessed is he who fears the Lord" or "He who persists until the end") and comments on the events.
Mendelssohn, with the help of the minister Julius Schubring, essentially took the entire text from 1 Kings 17-19 and 2 Kings 1-2. Mendelssohn wrote Schubring on 2 November 1838, with regard to the character Elijah: "For Elijah I had in mind a proper prophet through and through, of the sort we could use again today: strong, zealous, as well as angry, furious and grim, in opposition to the rabble of the court and of the people, in opposition to nearly the whole world, and yet borne as if by angels' wings." Seen in this way, the prophet Elijah, and hence Mendelssohn's oratorio, is once again extremely relevant for us today.
lijah opens in dramatic fashion, not with the customary overture but with Elijah proclaiming the curse, much as the prophet himself abruptly appeared to Ahab. Mendelssohn in fact planned to omit the overture altogether since it interfered with the developing story line, but was later persuaded by Bartholomew to add one, placing it, however, after Elijah's introduction. This performance returns to Mendelssohn's original concept and the overture has been discarded. The people plead for rain ("Help, Lord" and "Lord, bow Thine ear") while Obadiah urges them to repent. An angel sends Elijah to the widow of Zarephath ("Elijah, get thee hence.") Elijah's duet with the widow ("What have I to do with thee") provides the first great dramatic moment, when Elijah prays to the Lord three times that her son might be restored to life. The magnificent chorus "Blessed are the men who fear Him" is one of Schubring's interpolations into the story, but provides Mendelssohn with an opportunity for some wonderfully evocative writing, such as the ascending triads to the text "through darkness riseth light."
Elijah returns to face Ahab ("As God the Lord of Sabaoth") and places his challenge to the priests of Baal. The priests invoke Baal ("Baal, we cry to thee") while Elijah mocks them ("Call him louder"). This is the dramatic high point of the oratorio, with Elijah's calm contrasting with the increasingly frenetic music of the chorus. Their invocation ends with a fortissimo "Hear and answer!" which is followed by dead silence, surely one of the most dramatic and effective moments in oratorio. By contrast, Elijah then invokes the Lord with music of great nobility and simplicity ("Draw near, all ye people.") There is a brief interpolation by a quartet ("Cast thy burden upon the Lord") before the fire comes down from heaven ("O Thou, who makest thine angels spirits.") Obadiah pleads with Elijah to send rain ("O man of God, help thy people.") Three times Elijah prays to the Lord for rain ("Thou hast overthrown thine enemies") and sends a young boy to the top of a hill to look out over the sea for rain. At the third time the rain comes, and the people join in an exuberant hymn of praise ("Thanks be to God.").
Part II of Elijah begins with hymns of reassurance ("Hear ye, Israel!" and "Be not afraid"), but Elijah is soon embroiled in controversy again. He confronts Ahab, taking him to task for his idolatry ("The Lord hath exalted thee") while Jezebel stirs up the people against Elijah ("Woe to him.") Obadiah advises him to flee ("Man of God") and Elijah, alone in the desert, is in despair ("It is enough.") Angels come and comfort him ("Lift thine eyes" and "He watching over Israel") and Elijah makes his way to Mount Horeb to await the Lord. Here Mendelssohn again uses some vividly descriptive music depicting the fury of the wind, the earthquake and the fire, contrasting that with the simplicity to which he sets the text "and in that still voice, onward came the Lord." There follows another hymn of praise ("Holy is God the Lord") and a choral recitative ("Go, return upon thy way") as Elijah is sent back to Israel refreshed in spirit ("For the mountains shall depart.") Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind ("Then did Elijah") followed by Schubring's final interpolation, an invitation to come to the Lord ("O come, everyone that thirsteth") and the final choral hymn of praise ("And then shall your light break forth"), ending the oratorio with a majestic fugue.
Those familiar with Elijah may have detected another omission, the solo aria "O rest in the Lord." While it has become one of the most popular pieces in Elijah, Mendelssohn was originally inclined to cut it from the score. The melody bore a resemblance to a popular ballad and Mendelssohn did not really like it. It "is a song to which I have always had an objection," he wrote. "I shall leave it out altogether (I think) ... (I) believe it an improvement if it is left out." As it happened, Mendelssohn was persuaded by Bartholomew to leave it in, but in this performance the composer's original intention is being respected.
eter Lika (Elijah), who began his singing career as a boy soloist with the Regensburger Domspatzen, is considered one of the leading basses in the concert and opera repertoire. His unmistakable timbre is paired with delicately balanced dramatic expressive power, which makes him a natural soloist for roles such as that of Elijah. It is not surprising, therefore, that conductors like Masur, Schreier, Rilling, Gardiner, Marriner, Norrington, Celibidache and Herreweghe have appreciated working with Lika, as have renowned orchestras, not least for his extensive repertoire and many years of experience, also with early music. Performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and nearly all of the German radio orchestras have brought Peter Lika to the major musical centres of Europe, Asia and the USA.
eidi Elisabeth Meier (Widow, Angel) is considered an exceptional phenomenon among up-and-coming soloists and can already look back on numerous successes in concerts, operas and song. The soprano, who was a member of the Bayerische Singakademie from an early age and completed her studies with honours under Adalbert Kraus at the academy of music in Munich, has performed in concert with the Münchener Symphoniker under Prof. Schneidt, the Münchener Bach-Chor under Christian Kabitz, the Deutsches Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Kent Nagano and the Ensemble für neue Musik. In 2003 she debuted at the Gärtnerplatz Theatre and elsewhere.
olanta Michalska-Taliaferro (Queen, Angel) completed her basic studies in Warsaw and Cracow. She continued her education at the international music courses in Breslau (Adele Stolte), in Weimar (André Orlowitz) and in Stuttgart at the Bachakademie (Anne Reynolds). Concert tours in 1985-1990, with the Capella Cracoviensis, took her to many European countries as well as Japan, Canada and the USA. In 1992, Ms. Michalska-Taliaferro received a stipend from the Kunststiftung Baden-Württemberg. In addition to concert activity in oratorios, operas and song, Ms. Michalska-Taliaferro teaches singing at the conservatory for church music in Esslingen.
ans Peter Blochwitz (Obadjah, Ahab) is one of the most highly respected German tenors at the important international opera houses, particularly for the Mozart parts. Since his debut in 1984 as Lenski in a new production of Eugene Onegin in Frankfurt, his opera career developed rapidly, with engagements in Geneva, Brussels, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Zurich and at La Scala in Milan. In addition to opera, he is a sought-after soloist in Bach's passions and in oratorios by Monteverdi, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Britten and Frank Martin. He has performed in concert with Solti, Gardiner, Marriner, Harnoncourt, Masur, Abbado and others.
he Maulbronn Cantor Choir (Kantorei Maulbronn) is the large oratorio choir of the monastery in Maulbronn. The choir was founded in 1948 as a federation of the Evangelic Church Choir Maulbronn and the choir of the Evangelic Seminar Maulbronn. In this tradition the choir is formed today with ambitious choral singers from the region and students and former students of the Seminar Maulbronn (gymnasium with boarding school). Over those many years of its existence the choir has performed the complete repertoire of popular oratorios and worked together with orchestras like the "Southwest-Radiosymphony-Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg", the "Central German Chamber Orchestra", the "Southwest German Chamber Orchestra Pforzheim" or the "Baden Philharmonic Orchestra". Soloists of these performances were artists like Barbara Schlick, Maya Boog, Sandra Moon, Sophie Daneman, Marga Schiml, Elisabeth von Magnus, Hans Peter Blochwitz, Aldo Baldin, Marc Clear, Markus Brutscher, Peter Lika, Gotthold Schwarz and Ludwig Güttler. The German television station ZDF broadcasted a portrait about the Choir, and the choir has participated in live radio recordings for the SDR, SWR, Deutsche Welle and Deutschlandfunk.
ürgen Budday (Conductor) started teaching at the Evangelical Seminar in Maulbronn in 1979. This also involved his taking over as artistic director of the Maulbronn Monastery Concerts and the cantor choir. He studied church music and musicology at the Academy of Music in Stuttgart from 1967 to 1974. In 1992, he was named Director of Studies, in 1995 came the appointment as Director of Church Music and in 1998 he was awarded the "Bundesverdienstkreuz" (German Cross of Merit) as well as the Bruno-Frey Prize from the State Academy in Ochsenhausen for his work in music education. In 1983 Jürgen Budday founded the Maulbronn Chamber Choir ("Maulbronner Kammerchor"), with whom he won numerous national and international awards. At the Prague International Choir Festival, for example, Jürgen Budday received an award as best director. Since 2002 he has also held the chair of the Choral Committee with the German Music Council. Jürgen Budday has started a cycle of Handel oratorios that is planned to span several years, which involves working with soloists like Emma Kirkby, Miriam Allan, Michael Chance, Nancy Argenta and Mark Le Brocq (to name but a few). The live recordings of these performances, that have received the highest praise from reviewers, has won him international recognition. Till these days 10 oratorios by G.F.Handel are documented on discs. "No conductor and no choir have so consistently recorded so many Handel oratorios as Jürgen Budday and his Maulbronn Chamber Choir" (Dr. Karl Georg Berg, Handel Memoranda Halle 2008).
Released, so far, are recordings of the oratorios "Paulus" und "Elijah" by Mendelssohn, Puccini's "Messa di gloria", the "Missa Solemnis" by Charles Gounod, Rossini's "Stabat Mater", the oratorio "Moses" by Max Bruch and the oratorio "Die letzten Dinge" (The Last Judgement) by Louis Spohr, which are performed by the Maulbronn Cantor Choir under the direction of Jürgen Budday.
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Andreas Otto Grimminger & Josef-Stefan Kindler, K&K Verlagsanstalt
An Elijah as a devout and moving experience...
This Elijah is both: calming and very beautiful (listen to the octet 'Denn er hat seinen Engeln befohlen' or the divine quartet 'Wirf dein Anliegen auf den Herrn'). Of course once Elijah has done his bit and the Real God performed the much asked-for miracle, the choir are full of joy and sing their hearts out. But this incident typifies this whole performance. Although it was recorded live there is neither any evidence of an audience present nor any tangible sense of occasion in this performance, but there is a strong sense of being in a place of worship, not just in occasional glimpses of the monastery's lavish acoustic but also in Jürgen Budday's restrained direction, allowing his singers to relish the work's more devout moments and never trying to force the pace. So we have some of the slowest tempi on disc. The choir clearly are at ease with Budday's approach and produce a glorious luminosity in such reflective choruses as 'Siehe, der Hüter Israels'.
Also the superb soloists are all utterly convincing in their roles: Jolanta Michalska-Taliaferro is a magnificently wicked Queen as she spits out her venom against Elijah, while Heidi Elisabeth Meier could hardly be more angelic as she calmly exhorts Elijah to 'Rest in the Lord' (after his profoundly moving 'Es ist genug').
Polished orchestral playing further enhances Budday's interpretation of the work as a profound statement of Christian faith, while the recording is as flawless as one would expect from a state-of-the-art studio, let alone a 12th-century monastery.
5 Stars (out of 5 Stars)