Review - 07 May 2011

Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” in Bridgwater

A large and appreciative audience in St. Mary’s Church enjoyed a fine performance of Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah” on Saturday, 7th May. Bridgwater Choral Society was joined by Cleeve Chorale from Cheltenham in a now biennial combination of the two groups to provide a really large choir of 120 singers. With an orchestra of 38 players, the forces at the disposal of conductor Iain Cooper enabled him to draw sounds of thrilling power at the big moments. Despite the logistical problems of controlling so many performers spread right across the church, it was a most cohesive display from well-trained singers and excellent players. Best of all, the drama and the mood contrasts envisaged by Mendelssohn were all there: from the aggressive, manic chanting of the priests of Baal to the solemnity and sorrow of Elijah’s admission of apparent failure in the touching solo “It is enough”. The role of Elijah was sung with great passion and fervour by baritone Philip Tebb. He was joined by three other expressive soloists: Nicola Wydenbach, soprano; Penelope Davies, mezzo-soprano; and Richard Rowntree, tenor. Their blend as a quartet was finely judged, and well balanced against the large orchestral forces. They were joined as soloists by 4 senior girls from St. Margaret’s School in Exeter, where Iain Cooper does some teaching. Daisy Walford’s pure high treble was perfect for the youth employed by Elijah to detect the approaching storm, and she, with Lucy Norman-Walker and Alice Hodgkinson entranced the audience with “Lift thine eyes”, an unaccompanied trio sung angelically to great effect from high up in the South parvise. Charlotte Mackenzie made up a quartet to complement the full choir in the 8-part chorus “Holy, Holy Holy”: the balance was so controlled that the 4 girls could be heard blending with the full choir and orchestra.

Though the big moments of the oratorio were impressive in their power and scale, I found some of the more intimate moments of the music the most appealing: the simplicity of “Lord, bow thine ear”, a duet featuring the lady soloists and the choir singing in unison reached a real pianissimo; “Cast thy burden” was sung most sympathetically by an unaccompanied quartet drawn from the choir; the aria “O rest in the Lord” had great serenity.

Overall, it was a performance in which the choir appeared to revel, and the euphoria continued into the social aftermath. The performance will be repeated in Bishop’s Cleeve on 21st May.

Review by: John Bodiley

Photo courtesy of: Ian Beech Images