This recording of Mendelssohn’s epic Old Testament oratorio was made in the wake of last year’s acclaimed performance at the BBC Proms. For an ensemble that has tackled such monumental edifices as Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts (SIGCD280) as well as the seventeenth and eighteenth-century works that have formed the core of its repertoire, Elijah is a natural progression for the Gabrieli Consort & Players, albeit that the choral complement is greatly expanded by the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir, Chetham’s Chamber Choir, North East Youth Chorale, Taplow Youth Choir and Ulster Youth Chamber Choir.
The sound is tremendous in big choruses such as 'Yet doth the Lord see it not', 'Baal we cry to thee' and 'Be not afraid', but, as in the recording of the 'Grande Messe des Morts', one of the striking aspects of the performance is the way that Paul McCreesh so naturally places the great set pieces within the context of a multifaceted expressive whole. In defining the lyrical strands that run through Elijah he is fortunate in having soloists of the calibre of Simon Keenlyside to sing 'Lord God of Abraham', tenor Robert Murray in 'If with all your hearts', Rosemary Joshua in 'Hear ye, Israel' and Sarah Connolly in 'Oh rest in the Lord'. Such familiar moments in Elijah sound newly minted here, McCreesh approaching them with polished, fluent phrasing and using the period instruments of his orchestra to underpin emphases and to add vibrant colour.
The musical milieu is still Victorian but, rather like the cleaned-up Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens, it gleams anew and radiates light.
There is a fairly recent competitor in the catalogue, Jun Märkl’s performance in German with the MDR Radio Chorus and Orchestra, but McCreesh’s new one in English is now a definite first choice.