Mendelssohn Elijah 16th May 2015

Elijah Insetthe Exeter Philharmonic Choir under Andrew Millington’s firm baton, produced a really quite thrilling sound...

I have never sung in, or heard Mendelssohn’s 1846 oratorio, ‘Elijah’, prior to Exeter Philharmonic Choir’s performance on Saturday 16th May in Exeter Cathedral. Having consulted various professional musician friends, it became clear that this work is rather akin to Marmite – i.e. you either love it or you loathe it! So it was with some curiosity that, armed with a vocal score, I prepared myself to be taken on a voyage of musical discovery.

 The choir has a long-standing association with The Sinfonietta (formerly the Bournemouth Sinfonietta) and a fine body of players they are. There was some thrilling brass playing, exquisite cameos for the woodwind, and fine ensemble work from the strings. Above all, they were first-class partners for the choir. Some 120 in number, the Exeter Philharmonic Choir under Andrew Millington’s firm baton, produced a really quite thrilling sound, particularly in the forte passages of the choruses. There were moments of high drama where the addition of some thunderous organ playing (from the Cathedral’s Assistant Director of Music, David Davies) seriously commanded one’s attention! I had the impression that the choir really enjoyed this performance, relishing the calm of, for example ‘Cast thy burden’, every bit as much as the more stirring ‘Be not afraid’, or the wonderful stand-off between the Israelites and the Baal worshippers.

The four professional soloists delivered their arias and recitatives with sensitivity, though the prize for sheer clarity of tone and diction should surely go to the tenor Nicholas Hawker.

Whilst there will be some sadness that Andrew Millington retires from his post as Director of Music at the Cathedral in July, it is fortunate that he intends to continue as conductor of Exeter Philharmonic Choir, thereby helping to keep large scale amateur choral singing alive and well in Exeter and East Devon.

 

Liz Williams

 

 

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