Take the 100 well trained voices of the YPC, add to those soloists and guests of the highest calibre and then match all that with the sparkling sound of the 38 superb players of the Amici Ensemble and you are guaranteed a performance to remember, When, however, that performance is of the choral epic which is Mendelssohn’s ELIJAH, you get something truly outstanding. The prolonged applause and uplifted expressions of the large audience in Wakefield Cathedral on 8th April was all the evidence needed to prove that is exactly what was experienced.
‘A performance not bettered by any amateur choir I have performed with’ was a comment from one of the soloists ‘truly wonderful’ that of others.
From the initial warning statement which begins the work, the peerless Andrew Mahon (bass), as Elijah, set the scene for a dramatic performance which brought the extraordinary stories within the text to full life. This included him turning and visually challenging the choir, as the famous contest on Mount Carmel was performed in part 1. An action which definitely added to the excitement and menace intended by Mendelsohn’s writing. Andrew’s performance, of one of the most challenging of roles for bass/baritone in the choral classics, was not only assured throughout but the timbre of his mature voice gave authority to the part, so much required before the interval, but then with deep sonority to some of the moments of self doubt expressed through the writing in part 2. He is an outstanding performer and musician, small wonder he is more and more sought after for a multicultural of roles throughout the UK and abroad, especially in his native Canada.
Last minute illness robbed the performance of tenor Warren Gillespie. Although unfortunate, this allowed everyone present to experience the soaring voice of choir member Derek Ward who stepped into the role with only hours to prepare. His rendition of the famous ‘If with all your heart’, set close to the start of the work, immediately grabbed the attention of everyone present in such a way that it seemed there was the tendency to ‘hold your breath’ so as to ensure you experienced the moving stillness he created. His performance was rightly acclaimed by listeners and musical professionals alike.
The female soloist roles can sometimes be thought less significant in Elijah simply because of the immensity of the male roles. However, the rich quality of Gaynor Keeble’s penetrating contralto voice was exactly what was required in the warnings she must sing in part 1 and to the menacing part of Queen Jezebel in part 2. Gaynor’s years of operatic experience being used to the full both to give full vent to those parts vocally and dramatically. Una Barry (soprano) sang with great quality of tone and clarity as she became ‘The widow of Zarephath’ in part 1 and the pathos in beseeching Elijah to raise her dead son was proper;y drawn out in her performance. In opening part 2 with the air, ‘Hear ye Israel’ reset the scene perfectly.
The Amici Ensemble, in almost full symphony orchestra instrumentation, met all the considerable challenges posed by a large score with professional expertise on all parts. It is always unfair to single players out, but mention must be made of cellist David Wesling in the duet with Andrew Mahon in ‘It is Enough’. Such soulful and sensitive playing complimented Andrew’s singing wonderfully.
Elijah is a work of some length but if you are only singing once within it it might seem particularly so, especially for very young people. The Wakefield Girls High School Junior under 11’s Choir, led by Rachel White, waited for about 90 minutes before appearing, ethereally, at the back of the cathedral to become the choir of angels in the short but testing ‘cameo’ ‘Lift Thine Eyes’, which they sang with sweetness yet confidence, before quietly resuming their places until the end of the performance. Another long wait fell to young treble Reuben Vasey-Saunders who performed the part of ‘the youth’ sent by Elijah to check the sky for rain clouds following the long drought. Confidently sung with clarity and tunefulness. All received warm applause for these short roles at the performance conclusion when brought forward by conductor Andrew Padmore, who once again masterfully directed the large forces under his baton.
This will be yet another long remembered performance by the YPC who seem to go from strength to strength under Andrew Padmore’s direction. Their concerts have long been events to have in the diary so they are not missed. They follow up this choral epic with gentler 20th century music on 24th June at 7.00pm in Wakefield Cathedral, with the ever popular Faure’s Requiem and John Rutter’s Mass of the Children, featuring for the first time, the Silcoates Junior School Choir. This concert, the last of the 2016/17 season, is also supporting and honouring the work of The Wakefield Hospice. I suggest you book tickets early (available now from the box office on www.yorksphilchoir.co.uk) and if possible bring someone, perhaps a young person (as under 16 tickets are only £5) to enjoy what will be a great Summer Evening’s Musical experience in support of a really good cause.