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Mendelssohn: Elijah

- Winchester College New Hall

Kathleen Livingstone – soprano
Elizabeth Stokes – contralto
Peter Hall – tenor
Stephen Varcoe – bass

Winchester Music Club Chorus

Winchester Music Club Orchestra
Averil Carmalt – leader

Angus Watson – conductor

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Review from the Hampshire Chronicle (unattributed)

Winchester Music Club’s “Elijah”

The final concert of Winchester Music Club’s fifty-seventh season, 1981-1982, took place in New Hall on March 7th, when the choir and orchestra, conducted by Angus Watson, with soloists Kathleen Livingstone (soprano), Elizabeth Stokes (contralto), Peter Hall (tenor), Stephen Varcoe (bass), presented Mendelssohn’s great oratorio “Elijah”.

Outstanding was the vitality which Mr Watson instilled into the performance of this dramatic work so that at times it assumed almost operatic fervour. Even if it is on the small side for such undertakings, the acoustic of New Hall is good and the large forces participating, always responsive to the conductor’s expressive direction, were able to make a very positive and telling impact at moments of climax. The incisive attack of the chorus in “Help Lord” and the sure and committed singing at the outset was maintained throughout. The frenzy and drama of the Baal choruses, culminating in the fanatical cries of “Hear and answer”, and later, “The fire descends from heaven”, were especially impressive and both choir and orchestra revelled in the jubilant “Thanks be to God” bringing the action of the First Part to a most satisfying conclusion. How nice it was to hear all words clearly too.

In Part Two, the excitement of “Behold the Lord Passed By” and “Then did Elijah” were superbly caught, though in the former one rather missed the awe of the quieter sections which followed the outbursts. Sustained choruses were equally successful with the exception, perhaps, of the double quartet “For He shall give his angels” which needed less weight, in spite of the reduced number of voices, to be really angelic and a softer orchestral accompaniment. Save for an occasional predominance as mentioned above and a few instances of over-enthusiastic brass playing, the orchestra gave an excellent account of themselves. Overall, Mr. Watson imbued the necessary urgency into his forces where appropriate to the text, the end result being a totally unified achievement with minimal breaks between choruses and solos.

The soloists each made valuable contributions, most notably Stephen Varcoe, whose Elijah, even if lacking some of the darker tones, had warmth and compassion when dealing with the bereaved widow, a quiet humility in the prayer “Lord God of Abraham” and the requisite savagery in “Take all the prophets of Baal”. The beautiful aria “It is enough”, in which the prophet, exhausted by his endless struggle to save his people’s soul, begs for death, was deeply moving. Kathleen Livingstone’s finest moments came in the poised phrases of “Hear ye Israel”. Elizabeth Stokes sang with warmth and tenderness in “O rest in the Lord” and with deep feeling in “Woe onto them who forsake him”, while Peter Hall’s firm line and secure top notes suited both “If with all your hearts” and “Then shall the righteous shine forth”. “O come everyone that thirsteth” found them a balanced and mutually responsive quartet.