'Powerful performance' sees Axminster and District Choral Society makes 'storming' return following pandemic

The centre of Axminster with its historic Minster Church. Picture Chris Carson

The centre of Axminster with its historic Minster Church. Picture Chris Carson - Credit: Archant

After a miserable two and a half years of uncertainty, worry and frustration for choirs during the pandemic, the ADCS (Axminster and District Choral Society) came storming back with their powerful performance of Elijah, this most dramatic and demanding work which is certainly not for the faint-hearted. 

The careful preparation of the choir by their Musical Director, Peter Parshall, assisted by their répétiteur, Peter Lea Cox, presented us with an assured performance requiring the choir to sing as ‘the People’, ‘Priests of Baal’, ‘Courtiers’, ‘Angels’ or just plain ‘Chorus’, all of which needed a great deal of energy and precision, along with negotiating some tricky entries.

Starting the work after just three chords, the baritone, Julian Rippon, in the part of Elijah, sang the menacing introduction with great power.

This was followed by the restless and fugal overture, which gradually gained volume and intensity, leading to the fortissimo cry of “Help Lord” from the choir.

This was a riveting moment and a taste of the quality of singing which was to follow.

The first part requires a range of emotions from the choir, from anger and despair, then to hope and relief and all this was managed very well.

There is little let-up in the second part and I detected a slight flagging in energy, but there was some respite in the quieter mood of “He Watching over Israel” and “He that shall Endure to the End”(!) Then onwards through more turbulence to the final, high-energy chorus “And Then Shall your Light Break Forth”, bringing the work to a triumphant end. Although there was as usual, a preponderance of sopranos and altos, all credit must go to the much smaller numbers of tenors and basses who resolutely sang their parts, thus keeping a good and confident balance in the sound.

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Baritone Julian Rippon's performance during the whole work was a tour de force, attacking his recitatives with intensity and his arias with sensitivity. I particularly enjoyed the lovely cello solo which preceded "It is Enough".

Chloe Stratta’s pure ringing soprano was a delight, especially in “Hear Ye Israel” and the contralto, Juliet Curnow showed her ability to portray an angel and also Jezebel with her rich and beautiful voice.

The tenor, Henry Ross, gave pleasure with his lyrical and assured performance as Obadiah and in the aria “Then shall the Righteous”.

As a retired member of ADCS I remember the thrill of the rehearsal on the morning of concert day, when we greeted the orchestra and soloists for the first time.

They come I believe, from far and wide and only have one rehearsal to ‘get it all together’. This, of course, is where the conductor, Judy Martin, excels, with her command of the score, her ability to energise all those involved and her expert handling of the work as a whole which she does with grace, good humour and courtesy.

Very many congratulations to all who took part in this most enjoyable and long-overdue evening of music.