Like many music societies, The Tonbridge Philharmonic is including works by Mendelssohn in its current programme. The season started in grand style, on Saturday 21st November in Tonbridge School Chapel, with one of Mendelssohn’s last and most popular works, ‘Elijah’. The choir, which maintains a large membership, was on strong form, being particularly effective and convincing in the bold chordal passages and the well-known expressive meditations. The sopranos sang with a confident and well-focused tone, and this was very apparent in the trio movement for upper voices.
As we have come to expect with the society, there was a very strong line-up of soloists. The key part of Elijah was splendidly sung by Edward Price whose powerful voice was ideal in portraying the brooding and archetypal prophet, even if his youthful looks belied this fact. He commanded a wide range of expression, capturing the changing moods of the drama. One of the most magical moments of the performance was his duet with the cello solo, beautifully played by Danny Kingshill. The role of the enigmatic commentator, Obadiah, was sung with great focus and tonal control, and in a suitably detached manner, by Geraint Hylton. The soprano and mezzo parts were taken by Wendy Nieper and Susan Mackenzie-Park, whose voices both contrasted and blended, as required. The sheer beauty of sound and the vocal flexibility made their parts highlights of the evening. The sheer professionalism and experience of these singers did much to inspire the sterling work of the amateur chorus and orchestra. Hattie Serpis rightly received enthusiastic applause from audience and soloists for her small, but vital, role as the youth who finally sees the coming rains, and thus turns the mood of the drama. She sang with a superbly pure tone, which properly contrasted with the other voices.
‘Elijah’ is a long and diffuse work, and credit must rightly go to the society’s conductor, Robin Morrish, for steering and controlling the unfolding structure in terms of changing tempi and mood, and judging pauses absolutely for dramatic effect. The orchestra, as always, responded to any challenge put before it. This is a tiring work to play, with few places to relax. Rarely did concentration fail the players, and the audience was treated to some splendid wind solos and refined string playing. As there will always be with amateur performances, where there is very limited rehearsal time with the professional soloists, there were a few tense or ragged moments, but these were well compensated for by much lively and spontaneous playing and a real sense of commitment.
The healthy state of the Tonbridge Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra is a heartening example of this long-lived and vital part of British musical life; one of which we should rightly be proud. It was for just such a collaboration of amateur and professional musicians, performing for an audience from the local community, that Mendelssohn composed ‘Elijah’ in 1846. He would surely be very happy to see his work still delighting similar performers and listeners so many years later.