`Elijah' concert is scored a success

Music: The choirs of the Naval Academy and Goucher College, with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, shine in performance Saturday.

Review

Arundel Live

April 13, 2000|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The performance Saturday of Felix Mendelssohn's oratorio "Elijah" given by the choirs of the Naval Academy and Goucher College with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra was a success on all counts.

The grand, stately choruses of "Elijah" were brought to life with elegance and youthful elan by the singers, while the operatic intentions so implicit in Mendelssohn's solo writing were realized fully by the evening's four soloists.

The oratorio's libretto, which fast-forwards through the tumultuous life of the great Old Testament prophet, requires much dramatic singing. This is especially true of the soloists who play the roles of King Ahab, Queen Jezebel, the widow whose dead child is restored to life, and Elijah.

Bass Kevin Deas was a wonderful Elijah; virile, commanding and utterly inside the role. Declamatory passages rang out like pistol shots (the baiting of the pagan gods of Baal, for example), while interludes of resignation and sadness such as "It Is Enough" proved heart-wrenching in the extreme. Not for nothing is this guy featured on Telarc's new world premiere recording of Mozart's "Philosopher's Stone." He's going places and deservedly so.

No quibbles either with soprano Deidra Palmour, who was lovely in several roles in the production, or mezzo Shelley Waite, who mixed a little show-biz chest voice into Queen Jezebel's evil doings.

Tenor Gran Wilson became somewhat overwrought on occasion but in a good cause, for the Ahab role isn't built for tasteful crooning. I also loved his petulant turn away from Elijah during their Priests of Baal exchange. Campy minimalist staging doesn't derail that little potboiler for a second.

Because of the sabbatical by John Barry Talley, the academy's music director, Tom Hall of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society conducted this year's spring concert. It was a pleasure to see him in action. Many trains must run on time for "Elijah" to have a prayer of coming off, and Hall's vigorous beat made it happen.

Especially impressive was his flair for establishing contrasts between lyrical and declamatory moments. The moods of "Elijah" change on a dime, and every shift in emotional effect rang true.

The choristers acquitted themselves admirably, especially in my favorite, "He Watching Over Israel," which brought goose bumps out in force. Kudos to the academy's assistant music director, Monte Maxwell, for preparing them so well for the performance.

Everyone associated with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra should be mighty proud of how expertly the local band contributed to the cause.

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