MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.

Other Links

Editorial Board

  • Editor - Bill Kenny

  • Deputy Editor - Bob Briggs

Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search


Internet MusicWeb



Mendelssohn Elijah: Jonathan Lemalu (bass baritone), Lucy Crowe (soprano), Karen Cargill (mezzo), Andrew Staples (tenor), Libby Crabtree (soprano II), Anne Lewis (mezzo II), SCO Chorus (Mark Hindley (chorus master)), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 29. 1.2009 (SRT) 

First, a confession: I’ve never been entirely convinced by Elijah.  That’s no reflection on Mendelssohn – I love most of his orchestral and instrumental compositions.  It’s just that, to me, Elijah is too steeped in the sentimental Victorian optimism that characterised the time of its premiere (1846).  It reminds me of a time when mankind felt that anything was possible, especially the improvement of the human race, and it’s uncomfortably moralistic – even didactic – for our more nuanced 21st century tastes.  The second half, in particular, is all about keeping going and pushing on when the going gets tough, surely a message we need to hear these days, but it sometimes feels like you’re being whacked round the head by a stern moral guardian.

None of this is the fault of the performers, however, and it would be hard to imagine a more essentially exciting performance than the one given in Edinburgh this week.  The star, again, was the exciting young conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who did such a great job with Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony last weekend (see review).  His sense of drama gave the work a real shot in the arm, particularly in the climactic moments of the story, such as the contest on Mount Carmel, or the moment when the Lord passes by the mouth of the cave.  He is clearly convinced by this work: the architectural grasp of the overture was compelling, as was the sheer excitement of Is not his word like a fire?  Quieter moments have time to breathe, though, such as the gently questioning aria that begins Part Two.

The soloists made a good team.  Lucy Crowe and Karen Cargill made a good contrast.  Crowe’s soprano is high and bright, just right for the poignancy of the Widow’s solos.  Cargill, on the other hand, has an inherent instinct for drama: she brings a thrilling intensity to her brief appearance as Jezebel, but she is also a strangely moving Angel, to choose two examples from a very distinguished evening.  Andrew Staples, standing in for an indisposed Mark Padmore, won first prize for diction: every word was crystal clear, and his bright tenor suited Obadiah’s parts particularly well; If with all your heart was an early highlight.  The smaller female roles were characterfully sung.  The same cannot be said, however, for Jonathan Lemalu’s Elijah.  He had severe pitch problems which, together with an excessively intrusive vibrato, ruined many of his arias.  His voice carried neither clarity nor focus and too often his tuning, especially at the top, was badly awry.  His voice has undeniable power, but without the essential musical qualities this counts for very little.  Things certainly improved in the second half, but it’s a shame that such a key role let the side down so badly. 

The orchestra played with characteristic commitment, and there was an especially moving cello solo in the Bachian It is Enough.  Stars of the evening, however, were the SCO Chorus whose vocal acting was really splendid.  In turns they spat out their vitriol, begged for mercy, embodied the elements and transported us to heavenly realms.  They showed power, commitment and an inherent musicality that the chief soloist could have learned from.

None of this stopped my fingers from drumming towards the end of Part Two, but maybe I’m beyond redemption.  A performance as committed as this deserves to win the piece lots of converts. 

Simon Thompson

Back to Top                                                    Cumulative Index Page