Concert: Dream of Gerontius (31 March 2007)

Concert poster; details in text

Elgar's Dream of Gerontius

Pieces

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Reviews

The Dream of Gerontius

The number of truly great oratorios written in English can probably be counted on one hand, and Elgar's setting of Cardinal Newman's wonderful poem the Dream of Gerontius must be the most heartfelt and moving of them all. Lichfield Cathedral Special Choir was joined by the Lichfield Cathedral Chamber Choir and a much-enlarged St Chad's Camerata for a stunning performance of this work in the Cathedral, providing a body of some 250 musicians under the control of Philip Scriven's baton to tell the story of the passing of Gerontius's soul through death into purgatory and toward eternity. It was a privilege for me to have my first opportunity to perform in this great work, truly the pinnacle of Elgar's achievement, and those in the audience who were acting as my ears were equally moved.

A spellbound audience listened intently from the opening moments, with an exceptional blend of mellow orchestral tone evident from the outset, integrating Elgar's jigsaw of complex orchestral lines seamlessly. The clear, bell-like Gerontius (William Kendall) did well to perform this arduous, if rewarding, part, being barely recovered from a severe throat infection, and he gave a sincere and restrained account of the role, with a moving depiction of a man on his deathbed slowly losing energy. There was a wonderfully flowing transition from solo to choir at the first choral entry, soon followed by a dramatic plea to "rescue him". As Gerontius left his earthly life the Priest (Michael Pearce) thunderously sent him on his way with the chorus of Assistants passionately supporting him. His delivery was powerful and majestic; it was a shame that there was not more for him to sing in this particular work...perhaps we will hear him again in the future in a more extended role.

The angel (mezzo-soprano Jeanette Ager) quickly dispelled the notion of an ethereal spirit as she soared from rich chest voice to the heights. She was certainly in charge of Gerontius's soul, though there were times when a little more warmth in the tone would have been welcome. The Choir of Angelicals lived up to its name, with the choir sopranos soaring in Praise to the Holiest, often rumblingly underpinned by the new nave organ, played by Alex Mason. Overall the choir was in excellent form, the tenors volume and accuracy belying their small number, and the basses coming into their own in the terrifying chorus of Demons. There was a notable variety of tonal colour in the choruses, with excellent intonation and diction throughout. Indeed, one supporter in the audience thought this was the best Special Choir performance she had ever heard.

The performers were indeed almost victims of their own success, with the audience being so enthused by the depth, sincerity and quality of the performance that the opportunity for a final reflective moment was lost in the outburst of enthusiastic applause, which was nevertheless heartfelt, prolonged and justified.

March 2007