Elijah - Mendelssohn
Review by John Cooper Green:
A large audience battled through the wind and rain last Sunday to be rewarded with a dramatic performance of Mendelssohn’s monumental oratorio “Elijah” sung by the Penrith Singers in St. Andrew’s Church Penrith. Drawing largely on the account of Elijah in the book of Kings the text of Mendelssohn’s Oratorio is full of the over sentimentality and drama so loved by the Victorian age.
The composer’s use of the chorus as representing the people, or the Priests of Baal or simply as narrators of the story means that there is considerable variety from the straight forward four part (He that shall endure), the eight part (For he shall give his angels charge), the almost cori spezzatti (Baal, we cry) the lovely three part ladies voices (Lift thine eyes) to the vocal solos with choral interpolations (The Lord hath exalted these). In all of these the Penrith Singers demonstrated their expertise as a chorus of a very high standard. Vocal entries were precise, the parts could be heard clearly, phrasing was musical, tuning in the main was good and the range of dynamics was excellent with some lovely quite reflective moments contrasting with some spine tingling full chorus work. All this could not happen without the clear leadership of an excellent conductor. Colin Marston’s skilful direction showed him in complete control of the performance and the success of the concert was very much down to him.
The soloists were excellent and it was a joy to hear them sing as a solo quartet in “O come every one that thirsteth”. In particular Oliver Dunn (Bass) is a young man whose career we should watch with interest. He has a rich sonorous voice and he was perfect for the role of “Elijah”. The audience, I am sure, will long remember his declaimed introduction to the work coming just before the overture and his beautiful singing of “Lord God of Abraham”. Rachel Little (soprano) sang with only a few hours’ notice but this could not have been discerned from her performance. This is a role she is obviously familiar with and her radiant voice shone out and her dramatic interpretations did much to add to the enjoyment of this performance. Audrey McKirdy (mezzo soprano) also replaced another soloist at very short notice and she came down from Glasgow arriving only a couple of hours or so before the performance. Once again here was a soloist who was very familiar with the part and her lovely warm voice, particularly in the lower register, was a joy to listen to. The Tenor soloist was Richard Pollock, a great favourite with the Penrith audience, who made a very welcome return. His clear diction and thorough command of this style of music was very apparent.
Any choral work originally written to be performed by a full symphony orchestra will miss the instrumental colours and sound when accompanied on an organ and especially one of fairly moderate size. But Ian Hare’s flawless accompaniment on the organ for over two hours was exemplary with not a note out of place and adapting to the many speed changes he supported the choir and soloists with consummate mastery.
This was yet another excellent concert by the Penrith Singers under the direction of Colin Marston clearly demonstrating that they are one of this county’s finest choruses. Those who were fortunate enough to attend will long remember this very fine performance.