Choir the pride of Newbury 

  Elijah, by Mendelssohn, is basically an operatic oratorio conveying the theme of right overpowering wrong in the overcoming of the priests of Baal by the priest of God, Elijah, and the overcoming of the darkness of the soul with the light of God in Elijah's life. A few other things happen on the way.

The work opens, unusually, with the main character intoning boldly his prophesy of
three years' drought. This is then followed by the overture. Baritone Paul Carey
Jones was a robust, full-bodied Elijah, who portrayed the character of the prophet strongly. This role is a tour de force needing vocal stamina, which was well maintained in this performance.

Southern Sinfonia set the work moving with some lovely string playing, the beginning fugal entries starting with the celli and working upwards through the string departments with clear, almost questioning fugal-type entries leading to beautiful arched phrasing as the overture gained urgency. The orchestra was excellent throughout, except for a couple of little time-lapse blips which were almost certainly due to the acoustical difficulties of playing in widely spaced layout in the church.


Newbury Choral Society with Southern Sinfonia,
at St Nicolas Church, Newbury, on Saturday, March 18

The Newbury Choral Society have rarely sounded so good as in this work. Throughout the evening (which was long and demanding in energy levels) the choir was rhythmically taut, consistently cohesive, pliable to the demands of rubati in this Romantic composition so well directed by conductor Cathal Garvey, in tune and full of drama. Entries were clear and attacking when required and balance was well managed. The men were strong in the lower-voice passages and the women's voices rang clearly.

Even the last chorus, which is difficult and notorious for unravelling even in the best of performances, remained together and triumphant.

Soprano Sarah Helsby Hughes, who took several different character parts, sang with a bright, clean tone and portrayed her different roles with security.


  Tenor Adrian Dwyer, an excellent last-minute stand-in, sang his role confidently. It is often stratospherically high, but this caused no problem. The aria Then Shall the Righteous Shine Forth was gorgeous.

The alto, Hannah Pedley, has a voice of many colours. She is also sensitive to the text, has a wide range and is not afraid of using a rich chest voice when required. The famous aria O Rest in the Lord was so sensitively sung. She sang her role musically and beautifully.

The audience's darling was the treble, Daniel Blaze. He sang his part professionally, accurately and with a pure, clear tone.

Long live the role of the amateur choir in every town. Newbury should be proud of the quality of its choir - some 95 singers gave 100 per cent energy, concentration and musical understanding, which in turn gave the packed audience excitement and real satisfaction. The choir could still benefit from some more men, but tonight the imbalance was not noticed in the dramatic rendering of this wonderful composition.



Reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Weekly News