THIS first 40th anniversary concert by the Pangbourne Choral Society was a real tour de force under the baton of music director Jonathan Brown.
Elijah demands sustained expressive singing from soloists and chorus working in close harmony to bring to life one of the finest stories in the Old Testament. We knew we were on to something good from the very start — baritone Quentin Hayes in the leading role opened quietly with a warning to the unfaithful Israelites that they will have no rain. Then the chorus erupted into a desperate cry of “Help Lord! Wilt thou quite destroy us?” The power of this opening reverberated through the chapel’s brilliant acoustics - and it was riveting.
This performance was pure dramatic energy, enacted with conviction and total commitment. At its heart was the quartet of excellent soloists. Tenor Richard Coxon sang as if he were at the Royal Opera House. As Jezebel, mezzo Claire Williams stirred the people towards a choral climax that was totally convincing, and soprano Claire Seaton rose above the mayhem to exhort the Israelites to better ways through her angelic arias.
And was it fanciful to feel that the stormy climax — The Waters Gather, They Rush Along — reflected the stormy scenes of the Thames Valley? At times the tempo was fast and furious, but the words of the story were seldom lost.
The Pangbourne Chorus was in fine voice and vital in creating this dramatic musical narrative. As the priests of Baal they launched into the 2-choir/4-part choruses, vainly exhorting their god with rising intensity in response to Elijah’s taunts.
And the ladies, as angels, came into their own in the unaccompanied Lift thine eyes to the mountains in a show of rare sensitive expression. In particular, one noticed a rich, sonorous vein of Alto singing.
So we came to the finale And then shall your light break forth as the light of morning breaketh. Even at the end of this monumental work, the Choir managed to sustain a strong, harmonious and majestic conclusion.
Many in the audience and in the choir must have braved the floods and the gales to come to this 40th Anniversary concert. Jonathan Brown should be delighted at the progress made by his charges. They delivered something really special worthy of celebrating the 40th anniversary of a hard-working local choir.
Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel,
Saturday, February 15