Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
This piece was composed in the spirit of Mendelssohn's Baroque predecessors Bach and Handel, whose music he greatly admired. In 1829 Mendelssohn had organized the first performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion since the composer's death and was instrumental in bringing this and other Bach works to widespread popularity. By contrast, Handel's oratorios never went out of fashion in England. Elijah is modelled on the oratorios of these two Baroque masters; however, in its lyricism and use of orchestral and choral colour the style clearly reflects Mendelssohn's own genius as an early Romantic composer.
In 1845, the Birmingham Festival commissioned an oratorio from Mendelssohn, and in 1845 and 1846 he composed his oratorio to the German and English texts in parallel, taking care to change musical phrases to suit the rhythms and stresses of the translation.
The oratorio was first performed on 26 August 1846 at Birmingham Town Hall in its English version, conducted by the composer, and it was immediately acclaimed a classic of the genre. As The Times critic wrote: 'Never was there a more complete triumph – never a more thorough and speedy recognition of a great work of art'. Notwithstanding the work's triumph, Mendelssohn revised his oratorio wholesale before another group of performances in London in April 1847 – one (23 April) in the presence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The German version was first performed on the composer's birthday, 3 February 1848, in Leipzig, a few months after Mendelssohn's death.
Meet our wonderful soloists!
Linda Richardson, soprano
An English National Opera Principal between 1997 & 2005, Linda's career spans over forty operatic roles for major companies in the UK and abroad. Her voice is described as 'commanding, powerful, poignant and tender'. She has appeared on both radio and TV, gives master-classes, serves as adjudicator on audition panels, and has released a solo CD with John Wilson, Italian Arias, on Chandos. (Photo: credit Victoria Cadisch)
Diana Moore, mezzo-soprano
Diana has become a leading exponent of English music; in oratorio and recital. She is widely praised for a voice with ‘thrilling technical bravura’ (Gramophone) that is ‘warm, plush, full and eminently smooth, with an air of nobility and grace’ (San Francisco Classical). Best known for the Baroque repertoire, Diana has worked with eminent conductors including Marin Alsop and Sir John Eliot Gardiner. (Photo: credit Peter Everard-Smith)
Greg Tassell, tenor
A finalist in the London Handel Competition and London Bach Prize, Greg was runner-up at the John Kerr Award for Early English Song. He is much in demand on the oratorio and recital platform performing repertoire from Bach to Britten. Greg has performed with English Touring Opera, Opera a la Carte and Nova Music and was part of ETO's award-winning programme for special needs children.
Gareth Brynmor John, baritone
Winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Award, and the Royal Academy of Music Patrons’ Award, Gareth is part of the Songsmiths, and sings in the London English Song Festival. He made his debut with Welsh National Opera and has sung with the Bach Choir, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Gareth has recorded a disc of song entitled 'The Children’s Hour’. (Photo: credit Pablo Strong)
Artistic Director Leslie Olive offers his reflections on Elijah
The English Arts Chorale and Orchestra present their vibrant performance of Mendelssohn’s vivid and dramatic tale of the triumphs and despair of the great Old Testament Prophet Elijah. Surprisingly modern for a story from the Ninth Century BC, set to music composed in the 1840s by Felix Mendelssohn, this snapshot of the human condition uses music of intense insight to reflect on whether the woes of a nation are the responsibility of its people.
A complex and complete character, Elijah is portrayed as a convincing human being who knows he is the only remaining voice of truth but succumbs to the depths of despair. Intensely compassionate for a mother with a child at the point of death, he can also be august and commanding. His battle for the soul of the nation against the prophets of corrupt religion exhausts him even though he emerges the winner.
Mendelssohn is at a high point of his creative powers in this exceptional work. The English Arts Chorale and Orchestra under their inspirational conductor Leslie Olive bring the tale vividly to life