3 Choirs Festival runs until 27 July 2017 book tickets for the various events here: 3 Choirs Festival
Star rating: *****
Mendelssohn’s St Paul is rarely performed, therefore it’s selection for this year’s 3 Choirs Festival came as a treat indeed. With the Philharmonia Orchestra providing stunning backing to the stunning vocals of the Three Choirs Festival Chorus and the incredible soloists; Eleanor Dennis (soprano), Yvonne Howard (mezzo-soprano), James Oxley (tenor) and David Stout (baritone). As most enthusiasts are only familiar with St Paul via recordings, which certainly is the case where my knowledge of the libretto is concerned, to listen to parts I and II performed live was an unforgettable experience.
The oratorio begins with an introduction (Nos. 1-3), and continues with the martyrdom of St. Stephen, and St Paul‘s conversion and baptism (Nos. 12-22). Part Two continues with the mission of Paul and Barnabas (Nos. 23-27), Paul’s persecution at the hands of his former co-religionists (Nos. 28-31), the healing of the lame man of Lystra (Nos. 32-36), the resistance of the Jews and heathen (Nos. 37-40), Paul’s departure from Ephesus (Nos. 41-43), and following the mention of his martyrdom, a final chorus based on Psalm 103.
Both Eleanor Dennis and James Oxley provided a form of narration between them and their vocals were clear, pitch perfect with precise diction. David Stout’s baritone voice lent itself exceptionally to the oratorio and his voice possesses a rich, engaging quality which I am keen to hear again. Yvonne Howard, I was already familiar with, she is one of my best-loved opera and classical singers. Although in this piece her mezzo-soprano voice is used little in comparison to the other soloists, the quality of her sumptuous tone was a joy to behold and carried superbly by the acoustics of Worcester Catherdral.
The Three Choirs Festival Chorus performed spectacularly well as an ensemble, their voices blending seamlessly together as they followed the lead of their Conductor, Gerraint Bowen. I have not had the privilege of hearing the chorus before but they are the jewell in the crown of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.
The festival overall has been organised superbly, hats off to the team – and Break A Leg can’t wait to support this marvellous event again.