International Record Review

Mendelssohn, who did much to revive interest in Bach, died in Leipzig a century before Ramin’s endeavours there [Ramin was a great Bach scholar]. His greatest choral work, Elijah, received its first “complete” recording (some cuts) on Columbia in 1930. It has been transferred by Divine Art at two discs for the price of one. The BBC National Chorus and an anonymous orchestra conducted by Stanford Robinson join Isobel Baillie, Harold Williams (both of whom recorded the work under Malcolm Sargent in 1947), Clara Serena and Parry Jones.

Williams is a magnificent prophet. From Elijah’s scene with Ahab, when he challenges the priests of Baal, one knows one is in the presence of a powerful figure: actually two: Elijah and Williams. (In “Baal, we cry to thee”, Mendelssohn has given Elijah’s foes one of the best choruses). How firmly Williams sings “Lord God of Abraham”, while “Is not His Word” finds him histrionically exciting and technically accomplished. He gives a tremendous performance of the role. His fellow Australian Clara Serena exhibits little sign of vibrato in her contralto. Hearing her in this set I am surprised that she sang Anneris and Erda at Covent Garden. She’s rather bland and seems afraid to allow her voice its full flow. Baillie is, as always, fresh-toned, with pin-point attack. Not the most mellifluous of Welsh tenors, Jones matches Williams in responsiveness, though his partiality to the rolled “r” (“garrrments”) is too much for me. This is possibly his best contribution to the gramophone.

The well-trained chorus is a positive factor, vital and dramatic, as is Robinson’s conducting. Has some reverberation been added, unnecessarily, in the transfer? I am pleased to have had the opportunity to hear this set.

—John T. Hughes