REVIEW: Mendelssohn’s Elijah - Arundel Cathedral - Saturday 24th November 2012

The Angmering Chorale, The Sinfonia of Arun (Leader Matt Dennis), Sally Harrison (soprano), Catherine Carby (mezzo), James Edwards (tenor), James Oldfield (bass-baritone) and George Jones (conductor)

As God the Lord of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.

The Prophet Elijah’s words, from the First Book of Kings, certainly rang true earlier this year!

Things may have changed (!) since then but these majestic words, sung by James Oldfield, heralded the latest performance by the Angmering Chorale and their guests.

Mendelssohn portrays the Prophet’s triumph over the forces of evil. His oratorio, full of bible quotes, captures all that drama in music and George Jones and his own massed forces excelled.

The opening chorus displayed fullness of sound and fine balance.

Apart from Elijah himself, everyone had to switch back and forth from good to bad or, in the case of soprano soloist, play both the part of youth and widow. A small group from the choir were effective angelic choruses side stage.

Elijah successfully enlisted God’s help in saving the life of the widow’s son.

We then joined him in his battle with the Priests of Baal with the choir assuming both this role and that of the people. He entreated them to plead to Baal to consume a sacrifice. After the first request failed, he urged them to call louder and then louder again. Each plea was most convincing but the progression from loud to louder to loudest lacked a little impact. Jehovah, of course, prevailed leaving us with no doubt as to their feelings for the priests. Their shout of SLAY THEM echoed in every corner of the Cathedral and even, perhaps, reached Arundel itself!

And so to the drought! Everyone joined Elijah to pray for its end and, after he sent a youth several times to check, the rains finally came! Great rejoicings as the multitude watched the waters gather and rush along! A sublime soprano aria and chorus affirmed their faith in God.

It was not over yet as erstwhile angel, Caroline Carby, switched to the role of Queen Jezebel! Elijah had prophesied against all that the Israelites held dear and must die. He had slain Baal’s prophets and brought drought and famine on the land by his actions. I felt that the masses became a little over-exuberant here but maybe it was fitting? Moreover, the a cappella chorus, He that shall endure to the end, restored order.

Elijah went to the wilderness for the customary 40 days and songs of joy preceded his triumphal ascent to Heaven.

The elegant, bearded, James Oldfield (Elijah) was outstanding and all the other soloists excelled in their roles. The Chorale coped well with the work’s challenges and, what is more, they seemed to be enjoying themselves. This was an evening to remember backed, as ever. by the dependable, Sinfonia of Arun and expertly prepared and led by George Jones.

Jim Hurdwell