Review just in: Mendelssohn's St Paul (WCMF Concert, 13th May)

"Mendelssohn : St. Paul

The Winchester and County Music Festival began life in 1921 with the aim of providing an opportunity for smaller choirs to perform more demanding works which they would be unable to undertake with their own resources. For 2017 singers from Botley, Overton, Twyford and Winchester provided a splendidly large choir to give a powerful performance in Winchester Cathedral of Mendelssohn’s rarely heard oratorio St. Paul. Written in 1836 and first performed in that year in Dusseldorf and Liverpool and in Birmingham in 1837, the work tells the story of Paul’s persecution of the Christians, his conversion, baptism and ordination, as told in the Acts of the Apostles.

Saturday’s performance provided a successful opportunity to admire Mendelssohn’s elegance, romantic lyricism and superb control of his forces. The chorus responded well to the dramatic numbers as well as the more reflective ones, tackling the more complex contrapuntal music well, relaxing in the chorale numbers which reflect on the story. There was some impressive four part singing by the women’s chorus, and the gentlemen were suitably dramatic when needed. Three soloists caught the lyrical style of their arias well, tenor Adrian Green and bass Edmund Saddington being particularly effecting in their duet ‘For so hath the Lord’. Soprano Helen Bailey also caught the reflective, flowing melodies of her arias, even if she seemed a little less secure in some of the recitatives. The Festival Orchestra was led by Elizabeth Flower and provided a secure and at times powerful accompaniment, underpinned by the might of the cathedral’s grand organ. There was some lovely clarinet playing in ‘O Thou, the true and only light’ and a solo cello enchanted us in ‘Be Thou faithful.’

The whole performance was directed with clarity and security by Graham Kidd, and even if Mendelssohn’s later oratorio Elijah of 1846 is the better known and more memorable work, Saturday’s performance of St. Paul was most pleasing and a welcome opportunity to hear a work which is not performed very often these days.

Martin Hall"