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Mendelssohn's Elijah: So what's an oratorio anyway?

Imagine yourself sitting in church - and someone is reading from the bible -

“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”

There’s drama in that text, but do you really hear it?  Do you get the story line?  More often than not, your eyes close in deep contemplation...of your grocery list, or of the movie you saw the night before.   But behold!  Eighteenth- and 19th-century composers had  the perfect remedy for this:  the Oratorio!  Check this out, from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”: 

Now that’s drama!  Listen for the Handel and Haydn Society, conducted by Grant Llewellyn, recorded by WCRB in concert  - Mendelssohn’s riveting oratorio, “Elijah”.  Sunday February 21st at 7pm on 99.5 WCRB. You can listen online here.

Alan McLellan is a host and producer for CRB.