Mendelssohn’s great biblical oratorio about the prophet Elijah has remained a choral favourite ever since the composer conducted its premiere at the Birmingham Festival in 1846. From its conception Mendelssohn was determined that the drama of the story should be of central importance, and dramatic it certainly is.
First and foremost is the vivid portrayal of Elijah himself, who opens the oratorio with a curse bringing the scourge of drought upon the faithless Israelites. He urges them to renounce the idol worship promoted by King Ahab and his foreign queen and to return to the ‘Lord God of Abraham’. Despair, wickedness, cruelty, relief, tenderness and mercy all play their part in the story until the turmoil is finally resolved and the people sing an impassioned chorus of praise and thanksgiving to the ‘Lord, our Creator’. The dramatic impact of Elijah is intensified by Mendelssohn’s imaginative orchestration, and by the humanity of its characters and the beauty and power of the arias and choruses.