Thursday 18 January 2018

Review Classical: Mendelssonn's Elijah, National Concert Hall

Soprano Orla Boylan
Soprano Orla Boylan

Pat O'Kelly

Mendelssohn, keen to pursue the Birmingham 1837 Festival success of his oratorio St Paul, turned again to the Bible as a source of inspiration. He eventually settled on Old Testament Prophet Elijah - a figure familiar to him from both his Jewish childhood and Protestant maturity.

However, the idea lay fallow until a demand from Birmingham in 1845 spurred the composer into action and Elijah had its triumphant première in August 1846.

The fastidious composer made some revisions for London later that year and the piece soon became a choral repertoire stalwart worldwide.

In the more recent past Elijah seems to have slipped in the fickle popularity stakes but amends are made this week through the combined forces of Our Lady's Choral Society, Galway Baroque Singers, Wesley College Chamber Choir and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra under Proinnsías Ó Duinn's enthusiastic direction.

The revival, even if it is something of a curate's egg due principally to the less than pointed soloists, is timely and shows Mendelssohn's music matching the theatrical elements of the Biblical story precisely.

Elijah contains wonderful choral writing - some particularly dramatic like Part I's marvellous 'Baal, we cry to thee' and 'Thanks be to God' with 'Holy, holy' and 'Then did Elijah break forth' in Part II equally powerful.

The combined adult choirs here rise to the occasion with brilliant attack and full-bodied resonance but they can also be nimbly expressive when need be. There is admirable evenness in the quality of their tone while Mendelssohn's descriptive writing finds the choristers incisively exciting.

Pity the soloists lack the same homogeneity. In the title role, David Park tends to be somewhat unfocussed. His bass voice may possess cavernous depth and also high baritone lightness from time to time but his interpretation fails to convey the Prophet's commanding stature.

Soprano Orla Boylan (pictured) is the anguished widow of Zarephath while her later 'Hear, ye Israel' is plaintive if shrill. The promise shown in alto Kate Allen's 'Woe, woe unto them' fails to materialise in her significant aria 'O, rest in the Lord' but tenor Julian Hubbard carries his 'Then shall the righteous' with distinction.

Under Maestro Ó Duinn, the RTÉCO fills in the instrumental colour with Emma Jane Murphy's cello obbligato in 'It is enough' sensitively etched.

Irish Independent

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