wed 28/02/2024

Elijah, LSO, Pappano, Barbican review - vivid declamation powers Old Testament blockbuster | reviews, news & interviews

Elijah, LSO, Pappano, Barbican review - vivid declamation powers Old Testament blockbuster

Elijah, LSO, Pappano, Barbican review - vivid declamation powers Old Testament blockbuster

Mendelssohn’s drama heightened by top conductor, soloists, chorus and orchestra

Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha as The Widow pleading with Gerald Finley's Elijah, Pappano conductingAll images by Mark Allan

That it would be a vividly operatic kind of oratorio performance was never in doubt. Mendelssohn, who said he wanted to create “a real world, such as you find in every chapter of the Old Testament,” instigates high drama with Elijah’s brass-backed opening statement. Pappano then let the orchestral and vocal narrative fly like an arrow, supported to the hilt by all involved, not least four great singers with whom he’d achieved several major successes at the Royal Opera.

The only real problem with the evening was the work itself. You feel Mendelssohn was made for the sweet and the sorrowful, yet for Birmingham he had to produce reams of angry or fierily affirmative choral music. Pappano drove with the crispest rhythms and the right urged attack over any potential four-squareness, but you still wondered about the musical truth of much of it. Gerald Finley as ElijahBesides, Elijah is a rather typical Old Testament bully. With Gerald Finley in fire-spitting command, you had to be impressed by his authority, but it was only in Part Two when, cast out in the wilderness. Mendelssohn gives his Prophet a lament worthy of his beloved Bach, “It is enough”, with cellos producing a period-instrument vibrato-free sorrowing-along, that emotion hit hard. Fascinating here how Mendelssohn moves from homaging the Passions of a composer he did so much to champion in the mid-19th century to Handel (Elijah again, consoling in “For the mountains shall depart”) and even Mozart (the solo quartet before the straightforward final chorus). Sarah Connolly and Masabane Cecilia RangwanashaMendelssohn is even-handed in his demands from the soloists, and no-one faltered. Allan Clayton’s now-celebrated interchange of tenderness and clarion calls had its apogee in “Then shall the righteous”. Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, to whom when she was a Jette Parker Young Artist at a Royal Opera masterclass Pappano said he had nothing to teach, pulled out ever more spectacular stops. Yes, the soaring lines which make her ideal for Mozart and Strauss were there from the start, but who could have anticipated quite the degree of hair-raising drama as the plaintiveness of “Hear ye, Israel” gives way to affirmation? And Sarah Connolly (pictured above on the left with Rangwanasha) made every word tell in all her notes, to the extent of making several arias sound more like dramatic recitative.

An understandable choice, but the balance between text and song is a difficult one, and a tad more pure lyricism might have given us more relief between the episodes of high drama: Finley, faced with the difficult ranging of his role, went for the declamation too. Any repose there was came from the few woodwind solos in the later stages, chiefly from flautist Amy Yule – good to see and hear her with the LSO – and oboist Juliana Koch. Aftermath of LSO ElijahThe orchestra made what impact it could with rushing winds and flowing waters, but instrumental originality isn’t Mendelssohn’s point: as with Schumann, whose Faust Scenes I hope Pappano will tackle soon, the idiom’s the thing. And from the vast forces of the LSO Chorus through the fine young semichorus of Guildhall students to the superlative vocal quartet, everyone involved trailed clouds of glory.

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