Almost no other Romantic composer contributed as much to the rediscovery of Bach’s and Handel’s music as Felix Mendelssohn. He also drew on the Baroque masters in his own works, which is particularly obvious in his great oratorios St Paul and Elijah. The latter, which was presented for the first time in English in Birmingham in 1846, conducted by the composer, unexpectedly became a legacy of sorts, since Mendelssohn died shortly afterwards and did not live to witness the first German performances of the work.
It is also in a spiritual sense a last word of the composer; the Old Testament subject matter allowed him to affirm both his Jewish roots and his adopted Christianity, since the arrangement of the text makes it clear that the prophecies of the coming Messiah refer to Jesus. The oratorio is one of Mendelssohn’s most fascinating works; a wealth of melodic inspirations and dramatic excitement are wonderfully combined. Contrary to the prevailing opinion of Mendelssohn’s works as primarily elegant and lovely music, the oratorio reveals the gruff, uncompromising and resigned character of the prophet.
To mark the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth, the Berliner Philharmoniker presented the work under the baton of Seiji Ozawa, who has been one of the orchestra’s regular guest conductors since Herbert von Karajan’s day and was named an honorary member of the Philharmoniker in April 2016. Ozawa is particularly fond of Elijah and conducted one of its rare performances by the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1984. At this concert, the ensemble of distinguished soloists was led by Matthias Goerne in the title role, who as a lieder singer is one of the most outstanding interpreters of German music of the Romantic period.
17 May 2009
Elijah, oratorio, op. 70 (131 min.)
Annette Dasch Soprano, Gal James Soprano, Nathalie Stutzmann Contralto, Nadine Weissmann Contralto, Paul O’Neill Tenor, Anthony Dean Griffey Tenor, Matthias Goerne Baritone, Fernando Javier Radó Bass, Viktor Rud Bass, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Simon Halsey Chorus Master
Seiji Ozawa in conversation with Fergus McWilliam (17 min.)