Classical Review - Mendelssohn: Elijah

Jerusalem Theater, October 16: Mendelssohn portrays the furious idealist-prophet and the human tragedy of the mistreated fighter for moral justice.

jerusalem theater 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
jerusalem theater 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The season opening of the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s Liturgical Series was Mendelssohn’s Elijah, conducted by Klaus Knubben.
In this oratorio Mendelssohn portrays not only the furious idealist-prophet, but focuses pointedly on the human tragedy of the un-understood and mistreated fighter for moral justice. As such, the work represents what Thomas Mann later called the “Humanization of the Mythos”. Mendelssohn’s notable emotional empathy with the Biblical subject seems, perhaps, to reveal his Jewish roots, more than his rather formal and detached Christian oratorio St. Paul.
The performance’s astonishing surprise was Christoph Pregardien in the title role. World-famous as one of today’s celebrated tenors, he performed Elijah with a dark-timbred, sonorous, superbly expressive baritone, just as the role demands – or even more so. He did not act his part, but actually was Elijah. His complete identification with the prophet conveyed his rage intensely and convincingly, yet also his profound despair and humility, movingly expressed in his aria “It is enough, I am not better than my fathers” – one of Mendelssohn’s unrivaled masterpieces.
Mechthild Bach’s clear soprano soared radiantly over choir and orchestra, but was theatrical more than oratoria- like. Her “Hear ye, Israel” sounded like an opera aria, not a prayer. Alison Browner’s warm alto caressed the melodies softly and unostentatiously.
Markus Schafer displayed an appealing lyrical tenor.
The Limburg Dom Boys Choir was a main hero of the performance. It produced a rich, full sound, perfect balance, abundant nuances of dynamics, exciting involvement, exact enunciation, and forceful as well as delicate expression. Its fierce “Give us answer” sounded demanding, especially when followed by the eloquent silence of the non-answer. The sopranos and altos’ “Lift thine eyes” sounded as angelic as one always hopes but only seldom hears. The choir’s majestic rendition of Fiery chariot and fiery horses left no doubt as to what was happening when Elijah ascended to heaven.
The orchestra poignantly emphasized the dramatic events and contrasting emotions.