From the very start we knew we were to be treated to a performance of Elijah that brought out the drama of this great piece in a powerful way. The tone was set in the opening recitative by Byron Jackson, whose operatic performance of the title role inspired those around him to respond in a fine performance all round.
Set above the choir, his presence dominated the performance, as he wonderfully acted out the drama with both his rich voice and expressive actions.
Although with a chamber sized string section, the orchestra filled the hall with its rich sound in the overture paving the way for the choral entry, when the plaintive cry of ‘Help Lord’ followed by the clear entries of ‘the harvest now is over’ in every part, drew us into the story and created a real atmosphere.
This was sustained through the drama of the choruses to Baal, interspersed with the mocking recitatives of Elijah, leading effectively through the dialogue of the youth and Elijah as a small cloud arises to give hope in the drought to the chorus of thanks at the end of part one, which reached a wonderful climax as eyes were raised from copies to deliver the final cry of ‘Thanks be God, he laveth the thirsty land.’
Throughout, the other soloists followed the lead of Byron, offering moments of reflection and inspiration in their wonderful arias.
This continued into the second half, with the despair of Elijah caught first by the chorus in ‘Woe to him’ and then in one of the most moving performances of Elijah’s song of despair: ‘It is enough’ that I have ever heard.
If I have a niggle it was over the balance between choir and orchestra in the louder choruses, particularly felt in a movement like ‘Be not afraid’ where the trumpets could have been brought down a bit when the choir were singing. There is also a problem with the sound of the electronic organ in this quite small hall. When it is playing the sound seems to blanket other sounds and the choir’s diction simply did not come through. It all felt a little ‘in your face’, and if the choir sing with an orchestra in this hall again, more attention needs to be paid to balance.
It was something of a relief to hear the lovely tone of the choir, across all parts, carrying the orchestra beautifully in the more gentle chorus like ‘He watching over Israel.’, while energy levels were still high for the drama of the earthquake, wind and fire and the gentle resolution of the still small voice in ‘Behold the Lord passed by’ followed by a wonderful dialogue between the female soloists and choir in the ‘Holy, Holy, Holy.’
This energy was sustained through the death of Elijah, (although I would have preferred a more reflective tempo for Elijah’s final aria, to allow him to depart with more gravitas!), and the beautiful tenor aria.
By then, I am really ready for the final chorus, and it is not unusual for a couple of movements to be cut here, and I wonder if that should have been an option, as for the first time the choir seemed to lose a bit of concentration in ‘But the Lord.’
However, energy and focus returned with a vengeance for a fine rendering for the final fugue, ‘Lord our creator’, which brought to a close a performance that will live long in the memory.