Elijah      18 November 2017

Otley & Ilkley Choral Societies

Otley Parish Church

THERE was a distinct buzz of anticipation as the combined forces of Otley and Ilkley Choral Societies assembled in Otley Parish Church on Saturday evening. A full house in this commodious ancient church was welcomed by the chairman of the Otley Society, Anne Lovell, who also introduced us to the organist, soloists and conductor. A very nicely produced programme gave us all the other information needed and we settled down to nearly three hours of music-making.

'Elijah' has been a staple of choral repertoire since the first performance in 1846 and its leading character is key to the drama. From his first notes, Louis Hurst (baritone) proved to be a convincing Elijah, in fine voice and effectively communicating the role of the prophet to the audience. His movement around the stage neatly underlined the dramatic conflict between prophet and people.

Matt Mears (Obadiah/Ahab) is a very fine tenor who also shares this ability to communicate. His performances of 'If with all your hearts' and, in Part II, 'Then shall the righteous shine forth' were delivered with warmth and sincerity.

The quartet of soloists from the Royal Northern College of Music was completed by Jennifer Rust (soprano) and Emma Wheeler (mezzo-soprano). The women's dramatic roles are not so clearly defined. Although Emma Wheeler's rich contralto tone produced some lovely moments and Jennifer Rust sang powerfully, both could afford to enjoy their audience rather more.

Eight young voices from Leeds College of Music, the 'Otto' singers, were a delight. 'For He shall give his angels charge over thee' could not have been improved upon and their other contributions underlined the all the advantages of youthful voices.

Equally youthful is Yonni Levy who was making his debut as conductor of the joint choruses at the age of 20. Energy flowed from him. His incisive beat is an essential tool and the chorus will grow in confidence of attack under his leadership although perhaps he need not direct the solo sections quite so energetically.

With over 120 voices the chorus produced some powerful effects with rhythmic drive. Occasional insecurities were overshadowed by the vigour of the sequence on Mount Hebron, even though people of Wharfedale are rather too polite when required to express derision! The long collaboration of the two choirs is being re-energised by their young conductor which can only be good for musical life in our communities.

There were so many good things about this concert, it seems unfair to single out a 'star of the show'. However, the playing of Thomas Moore (organ) was quite outstanding in realising the equivalent of an entire orchestral score. In the lengthy Overture he achieved a finely graded build-up over many pages to set the scene for the Elijah drama. Showing equal understanding were the four short bars in which Elijah makes his weary way into the desert. The registration of the introduction to Elijah's next aria could not have been more sensitively chosen. Tom's responsiveness in accompanying all the soloists was matched by superb supportive work in the choruses.

Elijah is a very long work and Yonni Levy chose to include all the sections but the audience didn't fidget and gave the warmest possible applause. A rumour was circulating that soloists, 'Otto' and conductor were easily young enough to be our grandchildren, but this is to be welcomed. If they can help us keep choral music alive and fix the iPhone the Wharfedale community is in safe hands.

Tricia Restorick

Published in the Ilkley Gazette