Birmingham audiences never tire of Mendelssohn's Elijah, and the Town Hall, where it was premiered in 1846, has become something of a shrine to this venerable oratorio.
This performance by the English Concert Singers, Chorus and Orchestra was time rewardingly spent. Roy Wales is a conductor who knows how to keep things moving: individual numbers segued into a continuous narrative that quite belied the work’s episodic structure, and his brisk tempi steered clear of mawkish sentiment.
So – a no-nonsense, light and airy reading, well structured chorally (including an extremely confident, fresh-toned tenor section) and supported by a tidy, disciplined orchestra.
The choir lacked nothing in volume or attack – as in the ‘fire from heaven’ sequence, ‘Then did Elijah’ and the two finales – but was even more impressive at quieter points, with an impeccable ‘Lift thine eyes’ women’s semi chorus and poised ‘He, watching over Israel’ that scored for both linear clarity and tonal colouring.
Pauls Putnins made a scowling, edgy Elijah who sang with decent resonance and clear diction, but seemed reluctant to explore the role’s emotional depths – until ‘It is enough’, which perfectly conveyed the required blend of despair and acceptance (complemented by a marvellous vibrato-rich cello solo.)
Of the rest, soprano Helena Dix delivered ‘What have I to do with thee’ very dramatically – though she was rather too shrill to do full expressive justice to ‘Hear ye, Israel’ – and tenor Peter Auty’s evenness of line did much to compensate for his indistinct words.