Choosing balance over power, maestro David MacKenzie and the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra continued the ensemble’s centenary anniversary season Sunday afternoon at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center.
Mendelssohn’s sweeping oratorio “Elijah” offers the choice. With extensive instrumentation, a vast chorus — in this case, combined choristers from Rhode Island College, Greater New Bedford Choral Society, and Sippican Choral Society — and four prominent soloists, performances of “Elijah” can be stormy and breathtaking.
But they can also be insightful, interrogatory. Mendelssohn’s rich score, sensitively exploring musical possibilities from each scene in the libretto, can turn the hundreds onstage into a intimate ensemble. That’s the path MacKenzie followed.
The long pause he asked for during the repeated “Baal, We Cry to Thee,” with the chorus responding over alternating horns and winds. A brief, highly accented cello figure, before Elijah’s lament “It Is Enough.” A gorgeous melody articulated by the oboe (Laura Shamu), then picked up in the strings, in Elijah’s tender aria “For the mountains shall depart.”
The choruses, prepared expertly by Teresa Coffman from RIC and the NBSO’s own chorus master, Paul Cienniwa, may not have overpowered anyone, but sang with enthusiasm and skill.
The instrumentalists from the NBSO performed alertly under MacKenzie’s baton, all the while working carefully not to overwhelm the singers. Lima did the heavy lifting, particularly a long section toward the climax of Part I, as Elijah confronts the Baal worshippers. Multiple arias and extended give-and-take with the chorus and his fellow soloists had Lima singing his best, and interacting smartly with his stage-mates.