Elijah - Felix Mendelssohn
The performance given by the Penrith Singers at St. Andrews Church on the 23rd April was quite exceptional. With the organ accompanist indisposed shortly before the performance was to begin, the conductor took on the role of organist! He is no less than the Assistant Organist at Carlisle Cathedral, Edward Taylor. Philip O'connor, the tenor soloist, took on the role of conducting, and he did so very proficiently. It was good to see a left - handed conductor in a right - handed world! He was, of course,, still able to sing his tenor solos.
The music the audience had gathered to listen to, was Mendelssohn's Oratorio, 'Elijah'. It is not since May 2018, it was then Haydn's 'Creation, that Penrith Singers has performed a work on this scale, some two and a half hours of music. So the story is told, of Elijah in a dry land calling on his God to bring showers of rain, as simultaneously challenging the prophets of Baal to call on their God to light the fire under the sacrificial offering. It is Elijah who wins the challenge, slaughters the prophets of Baal, flees for his life from Queen Jezebel, and is taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire!
The work begins with a dramatic statement from Elijah, sung by bass, Adam Marsden. He has sung with the choir in the past, in 2012 - 13. A powerful voice, rounded and sure. So suited to conveying Elijah's authority. His role is considerable. He can exclaim in full voice as the prophets of Baal cry out to there God, with the repeated, 'Call him louder'; with exultation, 'Is not his word like a fire - - '; and with lyricism, as in the glorious arias, 'Lord God of Abraham - - ', and, 'It is enough - - 'with sensitive organ accompaniment - a highlight. Indeed, from the overture and throughout, Edward Taylor was, clearly, the master of his instrument.
The Penrith Singers chorus of some fifty singers began, in full cry, pleading to their Lord for water to fill the 'exhausted rivers'. But then, they would blend so well, all parts working together, as in 'Blessed are the men who hear him - - ', and the hymn like, partially unaccompanied, 'Cast thy burden upon the Lord - - '.
The tenors and basses of the choir are few, but they sang valiantly throughout, even where more power would have helped, such as in, 'Be not afraid - - ', while the ladies sang the unaccompanied 'Lift thine eyes - - ', quite beautifully.
Jessica Leary, with a voice on an operatic scale, sang the soprano role, notably 'in conversation' with Elijah, 'Now by this I know - - ', and the aria 'Hear ye, Israel'. Marion Ramsay, alto, took on the rather opposing roles of Queen Jezebel, and the angel, and as the angel, singing the beautiful 'O rest in the Lord - - '. When it was the turn of Philip O'connor, conductor for the evening, to sing, he would turn on his rostrum to sing 'If with all your hearts - - ', and 'Then shall the righteous shine forth - - ', with a rich 'English tenor' quality, a future 'Gerontius'? Choir members Samantha Green and Kristy Pattimore took minor roles and made up a finely balanced quartet with the soprano and alto soloists, singing 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord - - '
Our resume wouldn't be complete without mention of two bursaries awarded to members of the choir, Wilf Bazley and George Pattimore, and to boy soprano, Joe Alban. He was just perfect as the youth on which Elijah calls as he looks windward in search of a rain cloud. So the choir closed this quite exceptional evening of music making with ' And then shall your light break forth - - '. May it break forth, indeed!