After two decades Music of the Baroque is making its first appearance in Orchestra Hall. The move not only indicates that the choral ensemble believes it can pack a large concert space–it also certifies the coming-of-age for the city’s third major music institution. For this 20th-anniversary finale, MOB chief Thomas Wikman has picked a daunting vehicle: Mendelssohn’s crowning achievement, Elijah. A monumental oratorio–two and a half hours long–that harks back to Handel, Elijah’s story line is straight from the Bible: the zealous prophet Elijah is misunderstood and maligned by his own people for forecasting drought and famine, but vindicated and revered in the end. For Mendelssohn, the cruz of the tale is the religious dissension in Israel and Judaea over the divinities Jehovah and Baal–debates echoed in the reform politics in the Berlin of his time. Though second in popularity only to the Messiah, Mendelssohn’s oratorio has been faulted (by critic Herbert Weinstock) for its “highfalutin’ rectitude and bloody Jehovistic dogma,” and it can certainly be long-winded. But Wikman, who knows how to pace this kind of music, is sure to let the drama–not to mention the awesome special effects that depict tempest, earthquake, and rolling ocean–unfold excitingly. The oratio also contains a number of lyrical passages that should showcase MOB’s well-trained, perfectionist chorus. The quartet of leads in this performance are soprano Susan Dunn, mezzo Karen Brunssen, tenor Jonathan Welch, and baritone Timothy Noble–all acclaimed practitioners of the art of oratorio. Tuesday, 8 PM; Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 663-1900 or 435-6666.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Charles T. Davis.