Three Choirs Festival
lMendelssohn St Paul – The Three Choirs Festival
Sunday 23 J
Review: Paul & David Gray
A little performed work we should hear more of
Programme notes tell us that, while Mendelssohn’s Elijah has been performed at least 53 times at the Three Choirs Festival, St Paul was performed three times during the Nineteenth Century and not at all since 1896. On the evidence of Sunday night’s performance this neglect seems incomprehensible.
Drawing on Bach’s Passions for his structure; narration through recitative to move the story forward and the interspersion of Chorales to reflect on events, Mendelssohn’s musical language also suggests a familiarity with the English Oratorio. The great choruses have the pomp and majesty of Handel at his grandest. The reflective solos possess a tenderness redolent of that composer at this most vulnerable and human.
But if Mendelssohn shows a knowledge or these two baroque giants, the voice with which he speaks is unmistakable his own. There is a freshness and muscular fluidity in the writing that could only be Mendelssohn.
The Festival Chorus sang with energy and commitment. Their diction was clear and crisp, their tone rich. The tenors achieved a full bodied heroic sound that this section in other choral societies can rarely muster. One felt a bond of understanding between this superb choir and conductor, Geraint Bowen, who radiated an energy from the podium. This energy clearly captivated the performers drawing forth tight and focused singing and playing.
The soloists were all perfectly suited to their roles. Soprano Judith Howarth, possesses a substantial voice capable also of the most exquisite pianissimo singing. The Mezzo soloist has very little to do in this work. This is a shame, as Yvonne Howard did that very little with a richness of tone that left us wanting more. Tenor James Oxley has a perfect oratorio voice, clean and lyrical. Baritone David Stout was commanding as the titular character. The only slight quibble was that he responded to the Italianate lyricism of the aria Oh God have mercy upon me with an over-declamatory and operatic reading that seemed a little out of place with the performance as a whole.
This is nit-picking. The evening was a joy from beginning to end. Soloists, orchestra and chorus alike displayed flawless musicianship of the highest standard. I hope to have the chance to hear this remarkable work again soon.
Judith Howard – Soprano Yvonne Howard – Mezzo Soprano James Oxley – Tenor David Stout – Baritone Three Choirs Festival Chorus Philharmonia Orchestra Geraint Bowen – Conductor