John Frayne: Sinfonia, Oratorio Society shine in powerful 'Elijah'

John Frayne: Sinfonia, Oratorio Society shine in powerful 'Elijah'

Felix Mendelssohn's oratorio "Elijah" is a monumental work. It is not as long in performance as George Frideric Handel's "Messiah" or Johann Sebastian Bach's "Saint Matthew Passion," but it can seem as long as either of these.

It is no small task to put together this mighty work, and my thanks go to Ian Hobson and the Sinfonia da Camera and Andrew Megill and the Oratorio Society for their disciplined and highly moving performance of "Elijah," given on March 11 in the Foellinger Great Hall.

I count that a total of 141 singers and instrumentalists were involved in this performance.

"Elijah" is a musical depiction of the troubles and triumphs of the Hebrew prophet Elijah in his struggles with the worshippers of Baal, and with King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, and finally with Elijah's feelings of failure, before his triumphant ascension into heaven.

First, let me congratulate Professor Megill and the Oratorio Society for the high level of success in the singing of choruses covering a wide range of dramatic depiction and emotional outbursts.

The orchestral portion of the "Elijah" score is somewhat overshadowed by the solo and choral highlights, but the Sinfonia da Camera, under Hobson's energetic conducting, provided a solid and strong underpinning to this effective performance.

Some recordings of "Elijah" go the economical way, with one soprano covering all soprano roles and solos, and one mezzo-soprano to cover the alto parts. Hobson and Megill chose to have four female soloists to give dramatic variety in differing characterizations.

But the big, commanding role is that of Elijah, and we were fortunate to have so excellent a singer as Ricardo Herrera to sing that central, decisive role.

Elijah sings the opening words, but, after a most demanding two hours, is allowed, after departing for heaven, to sit out the last page of text.

Herrera was most affecting in the encounter with the Widow, whose son the prophet revives, and also in the back-and-forth struggles with the Baal worshippers.

Soprano Yvonne Redman was highly effective in portraying the anxieties of the Widow.

Some of the most dramatically effective moments of the score come in Elijah's questioning of the Boy about the coming of rain.

The role of the Boy was touchingly portrayed by Lukas Grosse Perdekamp.

Ruth Kenney sang affectingly the solos of the Angel, and Kasey Stewart projected strongly the antagonisms of Queen Jezebel.

Alexis Korbe did very well in numerous alto solos.

Tenor Thom Baker showed admirable versatility in the opposing roles of loyal friend Obadiah and wily King Ahab.

David Catalano and Joseph Baldwin did fine work in bass voice solos and taking part in ensembles.

As the performance unfolded I particularly enjoyed the hit numbers of this famous work: "If with all your hearts," sung by Baker; Elijah's lament "It is enough," sung by Herrera, "Hear Ye Israel," sung by Kenny, and "Rest in the Lord," sung by Korbe.

Throughout the evening, Hobson led a performance with strong forward movement, building up to a mighty climax.

After the resounding ending, there was an equal volume of applause, with many in the audience standing.

Geoffrey D. Williams, graduate assistant conductor, came on stage to acknowledge applause for the Oratorio Society in place of Megill, who was out of town.

This performance was dedicated in loving memory of Sophie Hobson, the daughter of Ian Hobson and Claude Hobson Campbell, who passed away in December 2016 at the age of 27.

John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. Reach him at frayne@illinois.edu.

Topics (1):Music
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