Oratorio offers rare choral treat
A full-scale choral-orchestral work is a rare event. And except for occasional performances of Handel's "Messiah," we seldom hear the characteristic potent and dynamic sound of oratorios. So Friday's "Choral Treat" performance of Mendelssohn's "Elijah" (1846), showcasing the compact yet vibrant collective sound of diverse choruses under the timeless baton and respected authority of Sir David Willcocks, was certainly a delight for the genre's lovers.
Presented by the Honolulu Symphony and Chorus, with the voices of the Hawaii International Choral Festival:
» In concert: 8 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Sunday
» Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall
» Tickets: $15 to $65; students $10
» Call: 792-2000 or visit www.honolulusymphony.com
The performance is the pinnacle of this year's Hawaii International Choral Festival and includes the American Samoa Community College Choir, the University of Hawaii Chamber Singers and the Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus. Combined with the Honolulu Symphony and Chorus, prominent soloists Leon Williams, Karina Govin, Margaret Lattimore, Alan Bennett and boy soprano Charles Mukaida, the festival choruses present a noteworthy rendition of the biblical drama.
Although it follows Handel's footsteps, maintaining the traditional traits of the English oratorio, "Elijah" includes some highly dramatic moments that dare to venture into a classical operatic zone. Yet the counterpoint and the frequent active role of the orchestra display a typical Baroque style.
In the work, various episodes from the Book of Kings show the prophet confronting villain rulers, poor farmers, priest and angels with passionate resolution. Majestically performed by Williams, a top-form baritone, Elijah's seriousness and humanity came through with no hesitation. Williams' presence at times seemed as powerful as the entire chorus. His reading of the role was not overly sentimental or effusive, as is often the case. Instead, his intense but warm voice is engaging in an elegant way.
In particular, William's interpretation of the prayer "Lord God of Abraham," in which he asks God to make his presence known to the prophets of Baal, was moving and sincere. Also touching was a scene on the balcony, where he faced the Youth, gracefully performed by Mukaida, asking if his prayer had been heard.
Tenor Bennett's accurate diction and almost Mozartian refined voice portrayed Obadiah and King Ahab with precision, especially in the aria "If with all your hearts ye truly seek me." Soprano Gauvin also brought an early-19th-century, light operatic touch to her interpretation of the Widow. Her version could have been more dramatic, but it complemented the powerful and captivating full sound of mezzo-soprano Lattimore (remember how wonderful Lattimore was in Alexander Nevsky's performance with the symphony two years ago?).
Finally, the chorus did a tremendous job, with clear diction, wonderful balance, outstanding dynamics and no hesitations. Interim director Nola Nahulu must be praised for her wonderful work with the Symphony Chorus. Her devotion to choral music and to her chorus, and her professional approach to the event, are remarkable and proved to be successful.
Valeria Wenderoth has a doctorate in musicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she also teaches.