This spectacular, magnificent performance of Mendelssohn’s ELIJAH almost lifted the roof off and set the concert hall at the Concourse alight.
Under the enthusiastic, energetic baton of Maestro Peter Ellis Willoughby Symphony and Willoughby Choir combined for a thrilling oratorio. It was at times rather overwhelming.
The work was sung in English and the text was helpfully provided in the program.
Mendelssohn’s oratorio was premiered in 1846 and was an instant smash hit. The dominant theme is faith and it is based on assorted passages from the Old Testament.
Mendelssohn’s music is full of tumultuous drama and passion and if you listen closely there are hints of his A Midsummer Night’s Dream overture. It is written in the spirit of Handel and Bach; certain sections are spiky and severe, whilst other sections feature swirling romanticism.
As the stern yet charismatic prophet Elijah, Alexander Knight was extraordinary and in glorious voice, vocally confident and secure in his formidable bass. He was a commanding visionary, proud, aloof and strong in his faith but this softened at times His Oh Lord , Ï have laboured in vain was a lyrical, pleading lament.
Tenor David Hamilton as Obadiah, Ahab and a few other roles was exceptional. He had a glorious light, lyrical, captivating and lithe, expressive voice.
The two female soloists were also in fine voice giving splendid performances. Soprano Penelope Mills had a lovely, lyrical extended aria which opened the second half – Hear Ye Israel – and was marvellous as the widow in Act 1.
Alto Nicole Smeulders was in excellent fine form too with her fluid but grave mezzo and eloquent phrasing, highlighted in her short solo Woe unto them who forsake him! Smeulders was striking as Jezebel in the second half attacking The Prophet and yet compassionate in the pleasant O rest in the Lord. Both also sing the roles of angels at various points and the duets were superb.The quartets for the soloists were ravishing.
George Sheldon was delightful with his clear pure treble as The Boy in the first half.
The Choir, a major participant as prophets of Baal, the assorted rabble and more surged and swelled thunderously at various points with terrific, electric timing and phrasing, as led by Ellis. There was a consistent round full sound with nuanced shading.
The Willoughby Symphony Choir was able to provide a delightful mixed double quartet and a high quality angelic trio. The prayers to Baal choruses vibrantly rang out and the following capture and slaying of the false priests was tumultuous and threatening. When they begged for rain we could feel their distress and the shimmering yet dull atmospheric brass, and iron as written in the lyrics.
This was a very exciting concert that, at times, gave me goosebumps.
Running time roughly 2 hours and 45 minutes including one interval.
The Willoughby Symphony and Willoughby Choir performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah played on for one performance only at the Concourse Chatswood on 22nd May 2016