"Okay, I'm gonna admit I'm biased- I first sung in the chorus of Elijah when I was 14 and it made a BIG impression on me! This recording is in every way wonderful. Starting with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. He IS Elijah to me. His singing is perfection. He has amazing phrasing and his diction makes it possible to understand the lovely, inspired libretto to this heavenly music. There are so many pieces that are ephemeral, but a couple of my favorites are: #14, Lord God of Abraham and #37, For the Mountains shall Depart. Dieskau does a great job of what I think of as compassionate, heartfelt singing. His interpretation sounds like the voice of God himself. It has a quality of kindness and yet he sounds just as convincing reprimanding the people of Baal. He is the true highlight of this recording.
That said, the rest of the cast is wonderful as well. Gwyneth Jones has a lovely, silvery voice that has a clarion bell-like tone that rings over the large orchestra with ease. She has occasional "misfire" but is a consistent performer. Dame Janet Baker and Nicolai Gedda both perform at a consistently lovely level. The orchestra and chorus are both wonderful. #15, Cast thy Burden upon the Lord, #32 He that Shall Endure to the End, and #38 Then Did Elijah are all highlights.
All said, for me the main reason to get this recording is Dieskau's Elijah- after all, he's the main character. But don't forget the lovely music. This story is exciting and passionate and sacred all at the same time. For me, it's the best oratorio that has a moving story and great music too."
Still the Best (in most ways)
B. Tupper | Ramona, CA United States | 08/25/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I sang the Elijah in college more than five decades ago and can still sing along all the choruses from memory. During the time since I have listened to every major recorded release. When I first wrote this review several months ago, I was comparing my vinyl set, purchased when it was first released in the 1960's, with the recent Terfel/Daniel CD release. Since then I lost my vinyl set in a fire and replaced it with the CD release shown here. With the ability to make quick A/B comparisons on the same sound system, I have reached some different evaluations.
I still think this recording is the most musically satisfying--except for the lead part of Elijah. The recent London release with Bryn Terfel is a close second overall, but Terfel is far superior to Fischer-Diskau as Elijah. In general outline, the Frübeck de Burgos version is more musical, the Daniel version is more dramatic. Frübeck de Burgos is a musician's musician, exploring and defining the inner details of the score with great care where Daniel shows more interest in the dramatic force of the whole. The diction in this version is excellent. The words can be understood plainly in most of the sections, even the heavy choral parts. In the Daniel version one has to already know the music, or have a text at hand, in order to know what is going on. (Fortunately, the complete text is provided with the Daniel version.) Renee Fleming and Gwyneth Jones are a tossup. Nicolai Gedda is wonderful here, far more satisfying than either of the tenors in the Terfel/Daniel performance. I think there has never been a better performance of the aria, "If with all your hearts..." I have always loved Janet Baker's work, and I think she was at her best in this performance. The contraltos in the Daniel performance are adequate, but not great. The big difference, the one that really tips the scale, is the comparison between Terfel and Fischer-Diskau. After listening to Terfel's convincing dramatic vigor, the polite presentation by Fischer-Diskau fell flat in my ears. Particularly his German accent really bothered me, as did his too-precise diction, spitting the words out with great care. Beyond the disappointing Fischer-Diskau presentation, every nuance of this recording is resoundingly wonderful, and with this excellent transfer to the CD medium, this release should continue to outshine all others in total performance.
The Elijah is not an easy piece to conduct. Compared to the Messiah, for example, which almost sings itself after you decide on the tempi and on the type and degree of ornamentation, the Elijah demands that the conductor remain in absolute control at all times, else the music can easily run away with itself. The choruses are complex and easily become mushy if not carefully managed. Frühbeck de Burgos is in total command at all times--with a superb sense of musical phrasing and balance in every detail.
The use of a boy's choir is a delightful contrast to the surrounding heavy choir parts. The diction is precise without feeling affected (other than Fischer-Diskau's, which is badly overdone in many places). The intonations are perfect in all parts.
I would recommend every serious lover of this music to have both this recording and the newer one by Paul Daniel with Bryn Terfel, and to go back and forth between them for their respective strengths."
Wonderful, but not my first choice
Presbyteros | Glassboro, NJ USA | 04/07/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I believe this was the first recording of Elijah in English that used an "international" conductor and some international singers. Fruhbeck gives a good, dramatic sweep to the piece, with some wonderful dramatic moments. This is an old fashioned performance, with only a solo quartet, and if there is a semi-chorus, I can't tell the difference. This means that the soprano is the Widow, and an Angel, the mezzo the Angel and Queen Jezabel, etc. You really should have a libretto, but you don't get one at this price. Fischer-Dieskau roughens up his voice for the role, and therein lies a problem. The voice spreads and his diction suffers because of it; that and his unidiomatic pronounciation, with far too many rolled "r"s. He does the drama well, but what works well in lieder works here less well on the large scale. Odd, given his success as on opera singer (check out his Iago), that here he frequently comes off blustery. Dame Gwyneth Jones belies her reputation and gives a contolled, dramatic performance, using her "edge" to advantage in "Hear Ye, Israel". Gedda's diction is amazing, with exactly the right color for this literature, and projecting a little more blood than an English tenor. Dame Janet Baker is my star in this performance. Dramatic, heart-rending when need be, and in wonderful voice. She'll chill your blood when she tells the people of Baal to "slaughter him, do what he hath done!". And as for the people of Baal, the Philharmonia Chorus is wonderful. Incisive and dramatic, with beautiful tone. I could do without the trick of the boy choir for "Lift Thine Eyes", and I miss the small ensembles, but all in all a fine performance, and good recording, circa 1968. First choice in English, Daniels/Terfel: better Elijah in Terfel, better recording, more authentic orchestra, small vocal ensembles (as per the score) but inferior women (including Fleming: beautiful tone, but where's her head?). In German, it's Sawallisch/Adam all the way. But if you're singing Elijah, and have a score, this is a good choice."
W. H. Erwin | Stewartstown, PA | 09/07/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I was so pleased to come across the CD release of this old recording. I have a CD of a cassette tape of a reel-to-reel tape from the 60s and it's my standard. This recording finds all of these magnificent singers at their best, and Mme. Jones is here sans wobble which accompanies her later in her career. My only regret is M. Fischer-Dieskau. His singing is lovely as ever, if a bit too lovely for the music, but one misses a real bass (or bass/baritone) in this role. The chorus and conducting are fine. What I love about this recording is the straight-forward playing and singing which this chestnut needs. A more recent Elijah with Bryn Terfel and Renée Fleming is unfortunately marred by someone's idea of "drama" (I guess the conductor, Paul Daniel). On this terrible version, the chorus yells and "emotes" and goes way over the top, as do the soloists. Elijah is not grand opera, Mr. Daniels. In any case, if you want a standard, most excellent version of Elijah, I highly recommend this recording."
Julia Wilson | 08/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This recording was reccomended somewhere as being even better than the newer version with Bryn Terfel and Renee Fleming - it really is tops, I think. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is as lyrical as ever. And the other soloists are also breathtaking."