JEHOVA IN FULL CRY
Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’ was performed by South Somerset Choral Society on Saturday 16th March 2019 to a full house at St Mary’s Church in Chard.
Reviewer Harold Mead wrote:
“...In Victorian times and in the first half of the 1900’s [“Elijah”] was a staple of choral societies, but for a while it has languished somewhat and it’s good to hear it sung again. In a way it’s an untypical work in the genre; ‘Elijah’ is NOT a Christian oratorio. Here is no meek, suffering servant God, but rather Jehovah going flat out, crushing His enemies and not a sign of forgiveness anywhere.
“Mendelssohn’s background was a mixture of Jewish and Lutheran, which accounts for a lot. The forces assembled by the SSCS’s musical director Tim Donaldson looked more than enough to do justice to the work and the church was packed to capacity for the performance.”
The part of Elijah was taken by Thomas Humphrey whose “clear and resonant bass voice was well up to the task, and it was immediately obvious that he would fill the title role admirably.”
The orchestra numbered 20 plus organ, and whilst “it took [them] a little while to gel and to get their intonation spot on ... once the players were ‘in the groove’ their contribution to the evening was first class and often they produced a volume of ensemble sound which belied their relatively modest numbers...[However] the balance between the orchestral sound and the choral sound very often rendered the vocal contribution difficult to hear. I have a feeling that the architecture of the church does not help – the chorus at the back are flanked by large vaulted openings on each side which must intercept and absorb a lot of the sound, preventing it from coming forward. There should have been no difficulty in hearing a chorus of nearly 90 singers, but often I was struggling to distinguish the words or hear the different vocal lines. There was quite a bit of ‘heads buried in copies’ too.
“Now let me start on the very many good things I heard, which, despite my reservations above, made this a very worthwhile musical experience. The four soloists were outstanding; I have already mentioned Thomas Humphrey – his clear and focussed voice made him a fine Elijah, and his vocal contribution throughout the evening was of the highest order [but] I feel that at times he could have inhabited the character a little more.... However, later in the work, Elijah’s weariness and despair in the aria ‘It is enough’ was convincingly portrayed and I found myself very moved by Thomas’s singing. The ‘cello solo which preceded this number was also beautifully played, just one of many the instrumental delights of the evening.
“Tenor Kieran White was a first class Obadiah, both in recit and aria mode. His opening ‘If with all your hearts’ was beautifully phrased and his voice was both clear and robust. His whole contribution to the concert was very fine indeed. The ladies did not disappoint either. Emilia Morton is a fine soprano and her ‘Hear Ye Israel’ was particularly good. This led into an equally fine ‘Be Not Afraid’ matched by the chorus. She, and indeed all of the soloists, were very skilled at blending into an ensemble sound when called upon and the highlight of the evening was the quartet ‘O Come Every One That Thirsteth’ - truly beautiful. Mezzo Rosie Middleton was also in top form and I was impressed by the way she kept her composure during multiple false starts from the orchestra for ‘Rest in the Lord’. Overall she made a fine contribution to the evening.
“In the quieter, more reflective numbers, the chorus showed that they can produce a finely blended ensemble sound. ‘He That Shall Endure to the End’ is such a well-known chorus that it has to be performed really well, and it was – a lovely rendering. Similarly, ‘He Watching Over Israel’ was very well done, although the men could have been a bit more positive on their entry....
“Elijah is a long work, and Tim had made some judicious cuts to bring the evening more in keeping with current expectations of concert lengths. I have only one major gripe about what he left out! The wonderful confrontation between Elijah and the Widow is one of the jewels of this piece and I am sure Emilia and Thomas would have made it memorable....
“The audience showed their great appreciation of the evening with prolonged applause, and overall there was a great deal to enjoy. Tim and all of the singers and players had obviously put in a lot of hard work and the end result did them all great credit. To the chorus I say what I have said in previous reviews – you can make a good sound, just project it more!”