Earth, wind and fire! Mendelssohn’s epic oratorio Elijah (1846) had it all, writes Suzanne Smelt.
Holmfirth Choral Society, conducted by Dr Geoffrey Lockwood and accompanied by the Valley Sinfonia and organist Malcolm Hinchliffe, brought this ambitious choral favourite to life. Four vocal soloists enhanced the dramatic performance.
Basically, the Biblically sourced text describes dramatic moments in the prophet Elijah’s life.
We heard how the Israelites (the choir) begged God to end the drought with a committed rendition of Help Lord, one of the Handelian style choruses. This stunning choral sound hallmarked similar mighty numbers such as Thanks Be To God and the finale Lord Our Creator.
Additionally, the vocal sections oozed confidence during imitative passages and diction was outstanding throughout – a real strength of this choir.
They endeavoured to communicate drama in theatrical episodes supported by consistently responsive and reliable playing from the orchestra.
The choir revved up during the contest of the Gods, from the modestly paced Baal We Cry To Thee to the frenetic Baal, Hear and Answer. Gripping from start to finish. And they did not fizzle out during the fast and furious The Fire Descends From Heaven. Indeed, they were ‘on fire’ singing with an explosive force. Some occasional slips on entry were rescued and did not spoil the proceedings.
Dr Geoffrey Lockwood clearly indicated well-considered tempo changes between numbers. With a few more heads-up from the choir, especially at key places, mistakes at the start of tricky sections might be avoided and also the singers will be able to communicate more the meaning of the text to the audience.
Impressively, they tackled sensitive choruses with control and good intonation and interpreted Mendelssohn’s lyrical melodic lines with style. Lovely cantabile singing and a super choral blend in He That Shall Endure To The End.
Overall, ensemble was first-class, as in chorale-like Cast They Burden and notably in the multi-voiced choruses.
The singing from the junior choristers from Christ Church, New Mill, was impressive. Not easy vocal lines; high, jumpy and exposed. You were brilliant!
Internationally renowned bass Matthew Brook added star quality with his utterly convincing performance as Elijah. A commanding and authoritative presence was marked by vocal power and resonance and in equal measure some spell-bindingly quiet singing. Believable? I’ll say!
In contrast to this big bass sound, tenor David Heathcote produced a lighter tone as Obadiah.
There was perfection in soprano Bethany Seymour’s polished performances and Sally Perkins’ even-toned voice added dignity with thoughtful renditions of contralto arias.
I thoroughly enjoyed this memorable performance of Elijah and would heartily recommend attending Holmfirth Choral Society’s Messiah on December 9.