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Bishop's Stortford Choral Society delivers powerful performance

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Bishops Stortford Choral Society
Bishops Stortford Choral Society

Chantale Darke reviews the Bishop's Stortford Choral Society's performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah

On a hot June Saturday evening in the Methodist Church, the Bishop’s Stortford Choral Society met the varying demands of Mendelssohn’s Elijah with enthusiasm and panache. Credit must be given to the music director, Richard Brain, and the BSCS committee for choosing this oratorio and guiding the 70-strong choir to a powerful and moving performance. The Old Testament theme of prophesied drought and harvest at risk had an immediate relevance for the concert audience as local hosepipe bans were being contemplated.

The role of the choir in the Elijah narrative is not straightforward. The chorus switches from being the “people of Israel” in one section, anguishing over the drought, to alternate believers in God and worshipers of false idols (Baal) in succeeding sections. One moment calling for the death of opponents... and the next singing as a choir of angelic messengers celebrating the glories of those who respect “the covenant of peace”. Perhaps predictably the singing was at its most powerful and the dynamics of the choir most effective when highlighting the need to have “fear of the Lord.” The rehearsal and individual effort needed to bring a choral performance of this calibre to fruition is not to be under-estimated.

Added strength and professionalism were provided by the invited soloists Rene Bloice-Sanders, Felicity Buckland, Tom Castle, Catherine Woodward and Imogen Morris, whose moving performances were warmly appreciated by the audience.

The overall performance would have been incomplete without the contribution made by the Hertfordshire Philharmonia Orchestra. This large local grouping of keen amateur musicians of professional standard supported the choir and lifted the occasion to an evening of rounded entertainment with musical drama and pathos. Vibrant brass and woodwind sections responded brilliantly to Mendelssohn’s intended emphases. Skilful performances by flute and oboes on the chorus of “He watching over Israel” and an oboe solo at the Arioso “For the mountains shall depart” provided moments of moving tranquility.

Mendelssohn had serious anxieties about the first performance of Elijah at a Birmingham Music Festival in 1846. Had he been in the Bishop’s Stortford audience last week he would have gone home a very contented man.

Chantale Darke

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