St Petersburg, Concert Hall

Mendelssohn. Elijah

Оratorio for soloists, chorus and symphony orchestra
Soloists: Anastasia Kalagina, Zlata Bulycheva,
Dmitry Voropaev, Vadim Kravets

Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre
Principal Chorus Master: Andrei Petrenko
Musical Preparation: Marina Mishuk

It would be wholly understandable if so fine a violinist, and so young a man, were a less than overwhelming conductor. But no apologies need be made for Znaider's leadership of the SPCO. From the explosive opening chords of Beethoven's "Coriolan" Overture to the lithe, lightning-fast finale of his Fourth Symphony, Znaider joined energy and songfulness. The low strings, which struggle to be heard at the Ordway, were gratifyingly present. And the space at Temple Israel, which puts much of the audience in close proximity to the musicians, helped make this an uncommonly involving performance, with an immediacy seldom achievable in a larger hall.
Star Tribune, 2008


A tall, reserved and quiet presence on the podium, Znaider conducted Schumann’s Second Symphony and Brahms’ “Tragic” Overture from memory, imposing no wayward interpretations, inclining toward slow tempos but responding to the inherent dramas. Schumann is a composer we can root for, and Znaider’s account of the Second Symphony proved the highlight of the evening... For the orchestra’s part, the Philharmonic dispatched the second movement, a whirligig showpiece, with precision and zest, and plumbed the depths of the far deeper third movement adagio with affecting tenderness. It was in this movement that Znaider achieved his greatest stature as a conductor.
Los Angeles Times, 2010


The oratorio Elijah was Felix Mendelssohn’s last major work – his swansong. It was commissioned by the Birmingham Festival, where his oratorio St Paul and his symphony Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise) had already been performed. The premiere took place on 26 August 1846, conducted by the composer, and proved an unprecedented success. The audience and the performers – including two hundred and seventy one chorus artists and one hundred and twenty-five orchestral musicians – were rivals in their enthusiasm.
The oratorio Elijah was written in the traditions of Handel. In Great Britain there was an unbroken tradition of performing Handel’s oratorios, and already by the 18th century festivals were being held that brought together hundreds and thousands of performers.
The libretto follows the text of the Old Testament, so revered in Britain since the time of the puritans, as closely as possible. Mendelssohn did not know the Great Britain of the Victorian age, and yet his Elijah is a work that is deeply Victorian in spirit. It was not by mere chance that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were admirers of the composer. On hearing Elijah, Prince Albert wrote a letter of thanks to Mendelssohn in which he compared the latter with a prophet who had cleansed the art of music of temptations and frivolity.
The style of Elijah was viewed by contemporaries as truly religious. On the one hand, the oratorio stands out for emphasising the traditions of Handel and Bach and brilliant polyphonic writing. In particular, Elijah’s aria “Is not his word like a fire?” (No 17) has, as its prototype, the aria “He is like a refiner’s fire” from The Messiah. On the other hand, romantic pathos and sincerity of emotions are inherent in the music. Not just in the eyes of Prince Albert, but in his own, too, Mendelssohn was a prophet, called on to bring music back from bowing down before newly fashionable idols and restoring to it eternal and unshakable values.

Anna Bulycheva

Age category 6+

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