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PERFORMING ARTS

Recordings

*** MENDELSSOHN: "Elijah." Bryn Terfel, Renee Fleming; Edinburgh Festival Chorus and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Paul Daniel, cond. (London); *** HANDEL: Arias. Byrn Terfel; Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Charles Mackerras, cond. (Deutsche Grammophon)

January 04, 1998|Mark Swed

The selling of Bryn Terfel, the Welsh baritone of oversized voice and presence, continues apace and without much taste, or so the covers of these two new releases seem to proclaim. On one, there is a close-up shot of Terfel badly made-up as the prophet Elijah; on the other, Terfel's mug is humorously pasted on an oil of Handel. Yet the phoniness is only skin-deep: These releases represent Terfel's first stab at singing under the influence of historical practices, and they are actually two of the finest recordings he's made so far. The Handel disc is an outright dazzler, what with Mackerras urging the baritone into both feats of high-wire ornamentation and touching sensitivity. Born to sing the stern prophet of Mendelssohn's oratorio, Terfel's Elijah has a voice of utter grandeur. An exciting performance throughout, greatly enhanced by Fleming's expressivity and pointed conducting by Daniel, who made such a fine impression at his local debut with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra last year. The period-instrument orchestra, however, is thinly recorded and sounds uncharacteristically puny for such healthy operatic voices.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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