The Dream of Gerontius at the Royal Festival Hall
This wonderful opera/oratorio by Sir Edward Elgar is a work in two parts for orchestra and voice and relates to the journey of a pious man’s soul from his death bed to his judgement before God. It was disastrously premiered in 1900 with the conductor, Dr Hans Richter, receiving his score in the very last minute before rehearsal. However, this debacle was the only dull note for this choral masterpiece, which was eventually performed outstandingly in Germany at the Lower Rhine Music Festival with its co-director, Richard Strauss, exclaiming Elgar as the ‘first English progressive musician’.
The works calls for a large orchestra, double chorus and top rate of soloists. In this case the wonderful choruses of the ENO and BBC singers came together under the guiding hand of the chorus master of James Henshaw and at times produced a spell-binding performance of great technique and sound. In many ways they were helped by the wonderful conducting of the Australian, Simone Young, who gave us a pacey but caring account of the glorious music. She really put every effort into ensuring the complete coordination between individual singers, the chorus and orchestra, with great attention to the dynamics and phrasing of Elgar’s sensitivity to the Victorian poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman.
Gwyn Hughes Jones sings the tenor role of Gerontius with an emotional ardour and ringing tone, backed by the Irish mezzo soprano of Patricia Bardon as the Angel, whose creamy incisive sounds flowed throughout the evening. The bass of Matthew Rose gave us the Priest and the Angel of Agony, with a splendid deep sound that filled the auditorium.
It was an outstanding evening of vocal deliverance, with the added bonus of the concept lighting by Lucy Carter, which after a tentative start in the first part came into its own with glorious effect in the second part of the evening.
With kind regards,