Saturday, January 14, 2023

Berliner Philharmonie, Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße, Berlin

Using a recent Critical Edition of the score, Kirill Petrenko has this week been conducting Mendelssohn’s Elias for the first time. Just the right moment, it seemed, for this was an eloquent, dramatic and thrilling performance, enhanced by Christian Gerhaher’s uninhibited portrayal of the Old Testament prophet, a great orator, commanding and compassionate. Written for the 1846 Birmingham Festival to a German text by Julius Schubring – with an English translation, used for the premiere, by William Bartholomew – which the composer conducted (he was dead by the time it reached Leipzig in 1848), Elias/Elijah is full of enchanting music: blissfully lyrical when required, or (reminding of Mendelssohn’s set-pieces for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) light and airy at times, or powerful, declamatory and intense at others, the latter aligning with Petrenko’s operatic skills, the Runfunkchor Berlin wonderfully chameleon-like, from delicate to roof-raising, the solo singers impressive and expressive, Gerhaher giving his all, and the Berlin Philharmonic detailed, vivid and subtle, with beguiling woodwinds, sonorous tuttis, and tremendous timpani contributions. With classy sound from the Digital Concert Hall, and the German words and an English equivalent hard-wired into the visuals, this was a special occasion, Petrenko ensuring that the forty-two numbers were each given their full identity while being bound into an indivisible and compelling 120-minute whole, something very competitive should it ever be commercially released.

Elsa Dreisig soprano

Wiebke Lehmkuhl contralto

Daniel Behle tenor

Christian Gerhaher baritone

Rundfunkchor Berlin