MENDELSSOHN’S oratorio Elijah is probably the best known work in the oratorio genre after Handel’s Messiah and certainly among the most loved by amateur choirs, writes CLIVE WALKLEY.

On May 4, the work was presented by Kendal South Choir in the resonant acoustic of St Thomas’s Church, Kendal. There was no doubting the choir’s enthusiasm for this work as they launched into the many great dramatic choruses. The sound at times was overwhelming; a larger performing space would have benefitted the performers and been more comfortable for the audience. But, that said, the choir really rose to the occasion and it was quite obvious that much thought and careful preparation had gone into the performance.

The work opens with a short recitative as the bass soloist, in his prophetic role, pronounces God’s judgement on the Israelites. Charles Murray, as Elijah, was immediately arresting, and his dramatic delivery of the prophecy set the tone for what was to come. In the following orchestral overture, the very competent strings players were too few in number to balance with the brass and woodwind (a recurring problem throughout the evening) but nevertheless the tempestuous nature of the music came across.

The choir, under the expert direction of their new conductor, Geoffrey Field, sang with confidence throughout the evening with no sign of the weak entries that sometimes bedevil amateur choral performances. The first choral entry, Help Lord, like Charles Murray’s opening recit., was immediately arresting and as the great Old Testament drama unfolded and the music became more and more dramatic, the chorus showed no signs of flagging. The strong tenor and bass section did tend to overwhelm the sopranos at times and more attention could have been given by choir and orchestra to Mendelssohn’s dynamic markings; the work does not need to be performed forte or fortissimo from beginning to end, although, of course, the dramatic content of the work does demand robust singing, and certainly there was plenty of that in this performance.

The choir was supported by a good team of soloists. Baritone, Charles Murray, had the necessary gravitas in his role as Elijah and Jacob Clark, tenor, produced a lovely sound; although still a student he sang with great confidence and has a voice of real quality. They were joined by Katy Thompson, soprano, and Sarah Jillian Cox, mezzo soprano. Completing the team were three young choristers from Lancaster Priory.

All deserved the enthusiastic applause that greeted them as the work drew to its close.