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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Concert Review: Philharmonic's Elijah Turns a Prophet

Gerald Finley
The New York Philharmonic made a triumphant return to Avery Fisher Hall this week with Mendelssohn's Elijah. This powerful Old Testament oratorio from the pen of Felix Mendelssohn has been a Philharmonic specialty since 1952, when Dmitri Mitropoulos brought the work to Carnegie Hall.

Mendelssohn presents Elijah's story as a series of operatic confrontations: as the prophet battles King Ahab, Queen Jezebel, and in the scene on Mount Horeb, he confronts God and his own faith.

Throughout, the composer displays his command of harmony and invention, from the complex choral passages to the soaring arias, to the final ascent of Elijah into heaven in a whirlwind, an orchestral effect generated by the Philharmonic strings.

Gerald Finley sang the title role. The Canadian baritone renewed a creative partnership with Mr. Gilbert that started with the opera Doctor Atomic. Mr. Finley is a Canadian baritone with an impressive, resonant instrument. He is a capable actor, and his Elijah became a three-dimensional character, contrasting rock-solid faith in the first half with the spiritual crisis of the second.

The New York Choral Artists, under the leadership of Joseph Flummerfelt, sang the key choral passages of the work with power and warmth. Soprano Twyla Robinson sang most of the angelic voices in the score, with a pleasing voice that rose to celestial heights. Mezzo-soprano Alice Coote was particularly fierce in the role of Jezebel. Tenor Allan Clayton split duties between the roles of Ahab and Obadiah, singing with a high, lyric voice.

Elijah has been part of the Philharmonic's repertory for almost six decades, and enjoyed a revival in 1997 under the baton of Kurt Masur. Mr. Gilbert's performance on the podium was subtle and flexible. He colored in Mendelssohn's detailed orchestration and coordinating the oratorio's complex moments with a wrist-flick of his baton.

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