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70th Anniversary Concert – Elijah
February 5th 7:30 pm - 10:00 pm
Dorking Halls, on Saturday 5 February 2022
And so it came to pass that, as the UK seemed to be emerging from two years in the wilderness as a result of the Covid pandemic, Ashtead Choral Society’s long-postponed 70th anniversary performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah took place on 5 February at Dorking Halls – but – would anyone come to listen? Would there be any sign of a crowd, let alone a cloud??
We needn’t have worried, as the audience seats filled up and the lights dimmed to greet the arrival of the soloists along with conductor Andrew Storey.
The portentous minor chords and the tritones (the devil’s interval) which open the work emphasised that Elijah (the excellent Philip Tebb, of whom more later) was not bringing good news. One aspect which was maintained throughout the performance was the excellent diction and characterisation displayed by ACS, which ran the full gamut of emotions from despair at the outset, through frustration and anger to gratitude and praise. In this they were ably supported by the Kent Sinfonia, whose enthusiasm was never in doubt. Special mention to the brass section and particularly to the principal cello.
The initial section of the work introduces the remaining adult soloists (Eleanor Pennell-Briggs (soprano), Adam Tunnicliffe (tenor), and, standing in at short notice for the indisposed Susan Legg, Susanna Spicer (mezzo)). All contributed well to the evening and your reviewer was particularly taken by the point at which Ms Spicer, in the character of Jezebel the Queen, turned to point directly at Elijah in one of her recitatives!
Highlights of the first half were the Baal choruses when ACS illustrated the increasing desperation of the priests of Baal, faced by that god’s continued failure to put in an appearance, and the closing section “Open the heavens and send us relief” which was beautifully paced by conductor Andrew Storey to allow the interaction between Elijah and the Youth (the delightful and pure-voiced Taylor Lai who was also performing at very short notice – and possibly after his normal bedtime?)
So the cloud and the rains came, and with ACS fortified by the rushing waters, and the audience perhaps by something a little stronger, the evening continued. Philip Tebb gave us a beautiful performance of “It is enough”, the ladies of ACS were outstanding (and bang in tune) through the unaccompanied trio “Lift thine eyes”, and the full chorus, voices apparently undimmed, took us energetically through the final few choruses (each of which can be described as “a big sing”).
The final fugue (now in the major key) concludes in triumphant style, but the reappearance of the tritones in the last few bars suggests that it may not always be plain sailing ahead for the children of Israel…. Hopefully there will be no such problems for ACS as they head towards the well-charted waters of Messiah, in St Martin’s church, Epsom, on 23 April.
Review by “The Warrior
What the audience said …
Great performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah in Dorking Halls last night for their 70th Anniversary. I hope there was much celebration afterwards at having crossed the line finally after 2 years of persistence
We hadn’t heard Elijah before – what wonderful story telling and atmosphere. We’re looking forward to the next one!