Last night at Koerner Hall, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir celebrated conductor Noel Edison’s twentieth season at the choir’s helm with a stunningly powerful performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s iconic oratorio Elijah. Edison put together a formidable cast of soloists which together with the choir and orchestra, created a performance with all the passion one could imagine.
The choir was in the best form I have heard in some time with clear diction, soaring phrases and dramatic outbursts. The 135 voices filled the hall with a huge sound, full of anger at times, and gloriously jubilant at others. The tonal pictures of a raging storm, an earthquake and a fire contrasted with a delicately sung “still small voice”. When the off-stage “angels” sang “Lift thine eyes”, the quietness in the hall was gripping. The heart-wrenching “He watching over Israel” was sung with warmth and tenderness.
From the opening introductory declamation by Elijah, bass-baritone Daniel Lichti in the title role ‘put it all out there’. His voice boomed; he had come ready to make his Elijah one to be remembered. For Lichiti to step in at the last moment and perform with such authority was extraordinary. His masterful performance was matched by operatic superstar tenor Michael Schade in the role of Obadiah. The famous aria “If with all your hearts” was as musically moving as one could possibly imagine. Soprano Leslie Emma Bouza and mezzo-soprano Christina Stelmacovich balanced the voices of Lichti and Schade both dramatically and musically. Bouza’s “Hear ye Israel” was sung with clarity and tonal beauty. Stelmacovich was equally memorable in “O rest in the Lord”. Boy soprano, Sebastian Dumitrescu sang with a purity of tone while charming the audience in his role as the youth.
Noel Edison, Guest Soloists, the Festival Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir
Guest Soloists Michael Schade (tenor) and Daniel Lichti (bass-baritone)
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Guest Soloists Michael Schade (tenor), Daniel Lichti (bass-baritone), Christina Stelmacovich (mezzo-soprano), Leslie Emma Bouza (soprano), the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Festival Orchestra
Photo credit: David Richards
Elijah is a work that requires the best in every aspect of a performance. The orchestra plays a major role in the drama. The brass and timpani were spectacular in the powerful choruses. Oboe, flute and cello solos added a depth of expressiveness. The cello solo in the aria “It is enough” was incredibly moving. While there is often a temptation to have as small a string section as possible, last night’s strings balanced the choir and winds and added rich colour in their accompaniment role.
This performance was just what the audience was looking for, a message of hope in a world torn apart by violence, waste, narcissism, greed and corruption. In a week in which there seems to be no perfect answer in American politics, the dramatic portrayal of Elijah offered up the inspiring story of a person changing the course of events through his own “spirit of wisdom and understanding”. The inspirational music under Edison’s insightful directions lifted Elijah’s themes to a height of rare beauty and joy.
It may be somewhat surprising that the choir named after Elijah’s composer hasn’t performed this masterpiece more often than it has in its 108-year history. Chorister Barry Clegg said that in his 42-years with the choir, Elijah has been performed six times as compared with the almost two hundred performances of Handel’s Messiah during the same time span. With spell-binding performances such as last night’s, I would hope that there will be a greater demand for more Elijah’s in the future.
The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir is the perfect vehicle for oratorios such as Elijah. The choir will have performed arguably the three greatest oratorios this calendar year: Haydn’s Creation last spring, Mendelssohn's Elijah, and Handel’s Messiah with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on December 18th through 23rd at Roy Thomson Hall. This choir is indeed a treasure for Toronto audiences.
Edison has added his own profound artistry with diverse programming and exemplary performance standards in his twenty years at the helm of The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. And he is following in the tradition of long tenures of its conductors. Toronto is indeed fortunate to have this world-class conductor at the choir's helm. Last night was a fitting celebration of all that Noel Edison brings to choral music in Canada.
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON November 6th 2016
PS: Our sympathies go out to soloist Michael Schade who lost his brother earlier this week and headed to Ohio immediately following last night’s performance to be with his family. His commitment to this performance in such trying circumstances was inspirational.
TORONTO MENDELSSOHN CHOIR delivers a dramatically powerful Elijah