Mendelssohn's Elijah can be great drama. With a text drawn from the Old Testament about the fiercest of the prophets, the work for soloists, chorus and orchestra would seem to be religious, but it actually resembles a concert version of an opera more than it does other oratorios such as Handel's Messiah or Bach's passions.
The Florida Orchestra, the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and the University of South Florida Chamber Singers, with Stefan Sanderling on the podium, are getting to the Mendelssohn bicentennial a bit late (he was born in 1809), but they are doing the celebration up right with a performance of the composer's last major work. Several of its movements have become church music standards, such as the quartet "Cast thy burden upon the Lord," the trio "Lift thine eyes" and the arias "If with all your hearts" and "O rest in the Lord."
Baritone Leon Williams sings the part of Elijah, the Hebrew prophet who tried to turn the Israelites away from worshiping foreign gods. Other soloists are Heidi Grant Murphy, soprano; Stacey Rishoi, mezzo-soprano; and Philippe Castagner, tenor. The chorus was prepared by the Master Chorale's interim artistic director, Joseph Holt, who recently was appointed music director of the Sarasota chorus Gloria Musicae. In February, Holt gave his final performance as principal pianist with the U.S. Army Chorus to mark his retirement from a 20-year career in the military. For more than a decade, he was associate music director for the Choral Arts Society in Washington.
Performances of Elijah are at 8 p.m. Friday at Morsani Hall of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa; 8 p.m. Saturday at Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. $20-$67. (727) 892-3337 or toll-free 1-800-662-7286; floridaorchestra.org.
John Fleming, Times performing arts critic