This was a rousing performance of Mendelssohn’s masterpiece, completed in the penultimate year of his too-short life, and premiered in Birmingham in 1846. Potential audience members put off by Saturday’s dreadful weather missed a rare treat. Choir, soloists, and orchestra gave of their utmost, and Michael Pearce in the title role was especially noteworthy, never flagging throughout his long and strenuous part. The other solos were finely sung, Hannah Mason appropriately angelic , Fiona Hammacott in fine voice, and Nicholas Sharrat’s ringing tenor convincing as Obadiah.
Special mention should be made of young William O’Brien as the youth, a brief but important part for boy treble beautifully sung with confidence and maturity.
Conductor Derek Harrison is always in control of his forces, and the choruses were given with precision as well as passion. The fine organ playing of Peter Jaekel added extra power and depth to the climaxes.
The aptly-named Bartholdy (Mendelssohn’s hyphenated surname) Orchestra, which was originally formed for a performance of this piece, played well, as one would expect, and the various solos were accompanied with taste and discretion, allowing the words to be heard clearly. Unfortunately, due in part no doubt to the cavernous acoustic of this very high-roofed church, the orchestra, as usual placed in front of the choir, frequently seemed too loud in the climatic choral passages, drowning the efforts of even the 100-plus singers at maximum volume. Despite this, however, the overall impact of the work was overwhelming, and at the final exultant chorus, Elijah, orchestra, choir, and audience ascended figuratively to heaven, if not in a fiery chariot, at least in the rapturous glow of Mendelssohn’s heavenly inspiration.
Hertford Choral held a workshop led by Lord Berkeley of Knighton, as part of the preparation for this concert, you can read more about it here.