updated 20 September 2011
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This piece was composed in the spirit of
Mendelssohn's Baroque predecessors Bach and Handel, whose music he
loved. In 1829, Mendelssohn had organized the first performance of
Bach's St Matthew Passion since the composer's death, and was
instrumental in bringing this and other of Bach's works to widespread
popularity. In contrast, Handel's oratorios never went out of fashion
(in England at any rate). Mendelssohn prepared a scholarly edition of
some of Handel's oratorios for publication in London. Elijah is modeled
on the oratorios of these two Baroque masters; however, the style
clearly reflects, in its lyricism and use of orchestral and choral
colour, Mendelssohn's own genius as an early Romantic composer.
The work is scored for four vocal soloists (bass/baritone, tenor, alto,
soprano), full symphony orchestra (including trombones, ophicleide,
organ), and a large chorus singing usually in four, but occasionally
eight or three (women only) parts. The part of Elijah is sung by the
bass/baritone and is a major role.
Mendelssohn originally composed the work to a German text by his friend
Karl Klingemann, who earlier had provided him with the libretto for his
comic operetta Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde. Upon being
commissioned by the Birmingham Festival to write an oratorio, however,
Mendelssohn had the libretto translated into English, and the oratorio
was premiered in the English version.
Sir Malcolm Sargent is remembered as a great choral conductor. Many of
the older generation can recall him conducting vast choruses singing
Handel, Mendelssohn or Coleridge-Taylor in the Royal Albert Hall. His
reputation as an orchestral conductor is marred by stories of his
attitude towards the musicians in orchestras.
Isobel Baillie, born to a Scottish baker, won a scholarship to
Manchester High School for Girls. Whilst still a pupil at the school
she received her first solo engagement to sing in Handel's Messiah,
a work she was to be associated with for the rest of her long career.
Her London debut in 1923 was to be followed ten years later with a
debut at the Hollywood Bowl, the first British singer to appear there.
She was one of the sixteen original singers in Vaughan Williams Serenade
to Music and often performed Elgar's The Kingdom and
Herbert Howells' Hymnus Paradisi.
The Huddersfield Choral Society has been one of Britain's major amateur
choirs for over a century. Sir Malcolm Sargent and the Huddersfield
Choral Society recorded Handel's Messiah, Mendelssohn's Elijah
and Elgar's Gerontius more than once in the
1940s and 50s.
Gladys Ripley was born in Forest Gate, Essex,and was educated at St.
Edmund Roman Catholic School, East Ham, and at Clark's Business
College. In 1925, she gave her first important concert, singing
Elijah at the Royal Albert Hall conducted by Albert Coates. Ripley
broadcast continually from 1926 in a variety of programmes: opera,
oratorio, musical plays, and light music.
Harold John Williams was a leading Australian baritone and music
teacher. Born in Sydney, he enjoyed a long and successful career in
England and his native country, performing in opera, oratorio and
concerts and giving radio broadcasts.
James Johnston son of a Belfast butcher, left school to work in his
father's shop in York Street. He started singing in the Church choir
and although he had no formal musical training he won many baritone
competitions until he was discovered to be a tenor. Thereafter he was
in demand throughout Ireland.
In 1945 Tyrone Gutherie, then in charge of Sadler's Wells Opera Company
in London, offered Johnston a leading role. He was Britain's leading
tenor from 1945 until 1958 singing in more than 850 performances in 24
leading roles with Sadler's Wells and Covent Garden
Click on image for full size printable inlay
| Part 1
Introduction, overture, Nos 1- 20
Nos 1- 42 (excpet for 36, 40 and 41)
"Isobel Baillie in particular was a noted
soprano soloist in Messiah and Elijah and at 52 still in good voice. By
today’s standards, the female soloists sound a trifle plummy and their
male counterparts a bit stentorian: ...there’s no doubting Sargent’s
absolute commitment to the music. He was something of a man for all
seasons, turning his hand to performances of all kinds of music that
were always very competent though rarely more, but his Messiah and
Elijah transcend his usual standard. Try the closing chorus of Part 1
if you want to be uplifted.The recording was thought to leave something
to be desired in 1947, especially in terms of balance, so I would have
expected some pretty dire sound had Barry Coward of Beulah not alerted
me to the quality of what he had conjured out of the ancient grooves.
Hi-fi it certainly isn’t, but it is remarkably good for its age, with
just a trace of surface noise . I can well believe that those who know
the Huddersfield sound think it perfectly recreated here. Thus an
important historical document becomes more of a pleasure too.
"Brian Wilson at Music
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