Concert Review - Elijah
A truly magnificent performance opens the 70th anniversary season
Premiered in Birmingham town hall in 1846, Mendelssohn’s Elijah has become a firm favourite with large choirs ever since. Vocally it is demanding and requires boundless energy and stamina yet these were in abundance throughout the performance by the Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir in the stunning setting of Wakefield Cathedral for the first concert of their 70th anniversary season.
Central to the story, bass soloist, Alex Ashworth’s portrayal of the prophet Elijah was immediately arresting and utterly convincing, captivating the audience with the grandeur and power of his voice. The anger and moral struggle of the character was evident in his use of dynamics and expression from the outset.
The other soloists in their various roles lived up to the vivid story. Claire Rutter’s beautiful soprano tones rang out in ‘Hear ye, Israel!’ Gaynor Keeble exuded drama and controlled intensity as Jezebel with her wonderfully rich mezzo soprano voice. Gaynor has performed with YPC in many roles over the years and it was a pleasure to welcome her back as part of the choir’s 70th anniversary season. Back with YPC again following his recent role in Haydn’s Creation, tenor, Austin Gunn brought drama and clarity to his roles with ‘Then shall the righteous shine forth’ making a stunning climax. Rhys Powell made his debut as The Youth in which he delivered his responses to Elijah so beautifully with a pure voice so befitting the role.
Dr Andrew Padmore’s infectious energy and commanding presence with his attention to detail was evident throughout the performance. As the choir’s musical director for almost 34 years, his vast experience permeates to produce choral singing of the highest standard and earn YPC the reputation as one of the best choirs in the country.
Throughout the performance Dr Padmore drew great skill and dramatic flair from both choir and orchestra. From the angelic beauty of ‘Cast thy burden upon the Lord’, the tumultuous drama of ‘Behold, God the Lord passed by’ with the climax when Elijah ascends to heaven ‘… there came a fiery chariot’ to the dramatic silences after the priests of Baal cry out ‘Hear and answer!’
Small groups from the choir formed the semi chorus for the trio, quartet and double quartet Mendelssohn required in specific pieces, which gave a variety to the texture of the music and an opportunity to hear the warm blend of voices from within the choir. Particular mention must be made to the ethereal beauty of ‘Lift thine eyes’, which created a stunning effect.
The Amici orchestra were plentiful in number and on top form throughout. Tom Moore made a welcome return as organist since taking up a new role after a long connection with YPC of over twenty years.
All in all, it was a spectacularly successful and exhilarating performance of Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’ which got the 70th anniversary celebrations off to a magnificent start.
The season continues with a performance of Handel’s Messiah on Saturday 19th November at Wakefield Cathedral, 7pm.