RECORDS CLASSICAL MUSIC : replay

Mendelssohn: Elijah Soloists, Boys' Choir, New Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra / Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos (Recorded 1968) (EMI Forte 7243 5 68601 2 4; two discs); Bruckner: Symphony No 3 (1888/89 version, ed Leopold Nowak) Staatskapelle Dresden / George Szell (Live recording from the 1965 Salzburg Festival) (Sony Classical SMK 68 448)
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Elijah from a decidedly New Testament standpoint, consolatory and sympathetic rather than defiant. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's invocations to the Deity sound oddly contrived, whereas the choruses wear a soft focus halo: witness, for example, "Lift thine eyes" and "Above him stood the Seraphim". The two Dames - Janet Baker and Gwyneth Jones - both excel in their angelic roles but the laurels go to Nicolai Gedda, whose regal tenor serves Obadiah and Ahab with fastidious enunciation and artful phrasing.

The sound is remarkably good, but bargain basement rivalry is fierce, with Sawallisch (on Philips, in German) offering a more riveting choral experience and the magnificent Harold Williams (under Sargent, off 78s) combining crystal-clear diction with theatrical rhetoric. His is the manliest Elijah on disc, although the newly issued CDs don't bear his name: Classics for Pleasure had intended to give us a later Sargent version, featuring John Cameron, but accidentally transferred the wrong recording. So my advice is to snap up "Williams in disguise" while you can (the number is CDCFPSD 4802), before CfP release their worthy but less imposing replacement. Occasional 78rpm surface swish will tell you which is which.

Hearing the tyrannical George Szell conduct a major European orchestra may suggest a "humanising" process, where Cleveland-style precision is leavened by extra flexibility and a thawing shot of textural warmth. Or perhaps it was more a case of "caution through unfamiliarity", compromise afforded by a temporary - and, of necessity, relatively tolerant - orchestra- conductor relationship.

Certainly this Bruckner 3 suggests a friendly encounter on common ground, being less cool and chiselled than Szell's famous Cleveland studio recording for Sony but almost equally well groomed, with carefully terraced dynamics and fiercely pulsing rhythms. The opening is typically intense, if a far cry from the prescribed misterioso, while the Adagio's principal melody is granted a classical elegance that suggests unfamiliar parallels with Mozart. If you fancy a broader paced alternative, you can always try the same orchestra, under the more idiomatic Jochum, newly reissued on EMI Forte. Szell effects some odd tempo shifts and his chosen edition will not please those who prefer an uncut finale; but with brilliant playing and dramatic characterisation, this CD provides a valuable added perspective on a great Bruckner symphony. ROBERT COWAN

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