Review: Elijah ***

Victoria Theatre, Halifax

Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah is always a problem, neither effective drama nor spiritual guide. Its music is complacent and conventional, calculated to satisfy the Birmingham bourgeoisie for whom it was written. George Bernard Shaw condemned it as music to “suit the compound of sanctimonious cruelty and base materialism which his (Mendelssohn’s) Patrons, the British Pharisees, called their religion.” Irony upon irony that it should be performed now, when GBS might have considered it an anthem for the authorities at St Paul’s.

But conductor John Pryce-Jones presented its parade of confrontation and violence without irony, and consequently its Victorian parlour tunes and four-square harmonies became a solidly satisfying sing.

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Halifax Choral Society and a youth choir drawn from Rastrick and North Halifax High Schools were in fine form – controlled, accurate and with careful diction. The work was driven along by the splendidly melodramatic baritone Andrew Foster-Williams, ably supported by Judith Howarth (soprano) and Anna Burford (mezzo) plus the light touch of tenor David Shaw. Northern Sinfonia underpinned securely. John Pryce-Jones deployed some elegantly Victorian circular arm movements and bouncing double downbeats, which might explain the occasionally fluffed ensemble.