Review: Fort Worth Symphony presents a grand ‘Elijah’

02/21/2014 11:54 PM

02/21/2014 11:55 PM

It’s not Christmas or Easter, but this weekend the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra is presenting a work whose tone and grandeur, if not its text, would be suitable for either.

The work is Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah, a later representative of the great choral tradition best-known through mighty works of Bach and Handel — composers very well known by Mendelssohn.

Performing with the orchestra in Bass Hall on Friday night were the combined TCU Concert Chorale, the Baylor Concert Choir and the Southwestern Singers. The soloists were sopranos Ava Pine and Shelby Bohlman, mezzo Virginia Dupuy, tenor Jonathan Boyd and baritone Jonathan Beyer. Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducted.

Among oratorios, Elijah probably is closest in spirit to Handel’s Messiah. Its text is inspired by the Bible, and there are lovely arias and grand choruses. Some of them are not as inspired as the greatest numbers in Handel’s oratorio, but they have their own beauty and dramatic punch.

A couple of Mendelssohn’s choruses, with their propulsive drive and power, are reminiscent of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” The chorus Thanks Be to God, which closes the first section of Elijah, and Be Not Afraid, from the second part, come to mind. Probably no chorus will ever sweep along an audience like the “Hallelujah,” but these come close.

Woe to Him is another chorus demonstrating Mendelssohn’s gift for musical drama; it received a highly impressive performance by the massed chorus Friday night.

Among the arias, Mendelssohn’s Hear ye, Israel, a beautiful work gorgeously sung by Pine on Friday night, is clearly in the same league with Handel’s best. It is Enough, sung by Elijah, is lovely and moving — and probably the high point of Beyer’s performance of the part of the prophet.

Another outstanding performer on Friday night was young Shelby Bohlman, whose pure and beautiful soprano made numbers such as There is Nothing and Behold, a Little Cloud a special part of the evening.

Dupuy’s mellow mezzo voice and Boyd’s pleasant lyric tenor were other assets (by the way, the angel feathers high on Bass Hall’s ceiling seemed especially pertinent Friday night).

The three choruses, spread four or five singers deep all the way across the rear of Bass Hall’s stage, produced surprisingly unified sounds. The Fort Worth Symphony, also sized up to generous proportions, was a major element in the performance’s success.

As a prelude to the evening’s music-making, Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra gave a moving performance of Arvo Part’s Psalom, a solemn, religious-themed composition.

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