CD review: Mendelssohn’s Elijah

First published in the Guardian on 16 December, 2016

Mendelssohn: Elijah
Balthasar-Neumann Choir & Ensemble/Hengelbrock (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)

Premiered in Birmingham Town Hall in 1846, fixture of amassed British choral societies ever since, Elijah is a prime culprit of George Bernard Shaw’s quip accusing Mendelssohn of “despicable oratorio-mongering”. But get a performance as fleet-footed and intelligent as this one — conductor Thomas Hengelbrock with his excellent period instrument ensemble and choir — and all stodge and sanctimony are swept away. There is still heft when it matters, in Yet Doth the Lord and drama-charged recitatives from fulsome voiced soloists (soprano Genia Kuhmeier, alto Ann Hallenberg, tenor Lothar Odinius, bass Michael Nagy). But what’s more compelling is the nimbleness, the swift-moving parts. There are quick corners and shapely inner voices, subtle weft even in classic fat chorus numbers like Blessed are the Men who Fear Him. Raspy period strings add God-fearing menace, the choir sound rich but luminous in detail.