The Old Testament’s “ripping yarn” about the prophet, Elijah was perfectly suited to the oratorio form in more ways than one. Apart from teeming with dramatic situations that begged for large and colourful musical treatment, the prophet’s vanquishing of the forces of evil and his subsequent glorification (being taken up into heaven in a whirlwind, no less) were perfectly attuned to prevailing Protestant sensibilities of the Victorian middle classes who enthusiastically hailed Mendelssohn’s work a masterpiece.
While Thomas Hengelbrock’s version is not on the same scale as Paul McCreesh’s monumental 2012 account, it does benefit from the excellent singing and playing of the Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble. In particular, the choir sings with unfailingly incisive rhythm and excellent German diction. Amongst the soloists the undoubted star is the young Hungarian bass, Michael Nagy, whose accomplished portrayal of Elijah balances the requisite qualities of patriarchal strength and human vulnerability.
Some may find Hengelbrock’s tempos a touch fast and a little unyielding at cadences and other points of harmonic interest. Both the heroic story and its musical realisation suggest the need for some flexibility. There is a sense that this version has sacrificed a little of the work’s grandeur and pathos on the altar of dramatic pacing. That being said, the excellent clarity and cohesion of this version is impressive and will invite repeated listening.