Transcendent Elijah with magnificent Quasthoff
[caption id="attachment_2782" align="alignright" width="219" caption="Helmuth Rilling leads while Thomas Quasthoff is immersed in the character of Elijah"][/caption]From Oregon Music News
With Thomas Quasthoff delivering a consummate performance in Mendelssohn’s Elijah, the Oregon Bach Festival soloists, chorus, orchestra, and conductor Helmuth Rilling climbed the heights of Mount Horeb and beyond. Their inspiring collaboration at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Friday (July 9) brought alive the stories of the Old Testament in such a way that the drama became palpable. Yet, it was a shame that the audience barely filled half of the seats, because this was a performance for the ages.
Quasthoff embodied the role of Elijah – not only with his expressive voice but also with his entire bearing. When Elijah challenged the priests of Baal, Quasthoff imbued his bass-baritone with disdain. When the widow pleaded with him, he responded with empathy and warmth. These are just a couple examples of what Quasthoff did to convey the persona of Elijah.
Soloist Elizabeth Keusch sang outstandingly, using her beautiful soprano to the fullest. Alto Roxana Constantinescu was superb, especially when she threw verbal daggers as the vengeful Queen Jezebel. Tenor soloist James Taylor also gave a terrific performance. One of his most impressive passages occurred when Obadiah implored the people of Israel to return to God in the aria “If with all your hearts.”
The chorus excelled in every way with clear diction, spot-on-intonation, and excellent blend. One of the many highlights was how the choir (as the unfaithful people) called out to Baal with visceral urgency. Another incredible high point was the powerful chorus “He that shall endure to the end shall be saved.”
The orchestra played with passion and precision. Principal cellist David Adorjan played his duet with Quasthoff with great warmth and sensitivity. Principal oboist Allan Vogel and principal flutist Molly Barth also created many sublime moments with their expressive playing.
Rilling conducted the entire enterprise with a masterful grasp of pacing and dynamics. He never let the emotion of a piece drag as, for example, when he set a brisk tempo for the famous chorus, “He, watching over Israel, slumbers not nor sleeps.” Overall, Rilling’s leadership was just the right touch that helped to elevate this performance of Elijah.
James Bash is the Portland-based classical music columnist for Oregon Music News.