Thrilling. Exhilarating. Hair-raising.
Those were some of the reactions to last night’s performance of Mendelssohn St. Paul at the Three Choirs Festival Worcester.
I must confess, that until last night, and only knowing Mendelssohn Elijah, which I consider a sleeper, I wouldn’t think of Mendelssohn as exciting.
Over and over again I heard people saying, “Have you ever heard this work before?” And everyone said, “No, have you?”
Indeed this work has not been programmed since 1896 at the Three Choirs Festival. It’s long—it lasts 130 minutes plus a 20-minute intermission made for a late night.
Conductor Geraint Bowen kept the story line moving along with some very quick tempos. Soloists Eleanor Dennis (last-minute substitute for Judith Howarth) Yvonne Howard, James Oxley, and David Stout were all consistently excellent. The choir was perfect as far as I could tell—with a clear tone and rhythmically supple ensemble.
The Philharmonic Orchestra, as usual, was top notch. They are the orchestra in residence at the Three Choirs Festival and play 7-8 concerts in the week. Based in London, this is the orchestra’s sixth year at the Festival. They regularly perform at Southbank Centre Royal Festival Hall about 35 concerts per season. Esa-Pekka Salonen is their principal conductor and artistic director.
For the Three Choir Festivals the major concerts are conducted by the principal musicians of the three cathedrals: Peter Nardone, Adrian Partington and Geraint Bowen.
It was obvious no one was sight reading. In fact I felt like asking the first violinist how many rehearsals they had—I was sitting in the front row and could nearly reach out and touch her.
The work consists of solos, duets, recitatives, choruses and instrumental interludes; its form reminded me of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion—and no wonder. Mendelssohn was given a score of Bach’s monumental work at age 15, and it made quite an impression on him. He performed the work in 1829, one hundred years after its first performance in 1729.
A brilliant, super concert!