Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38

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Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38

Recorded on April 21, 1983 at the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.


Arthur Davies (tenor), Felicity Palmer (mezzo-soprano), Norman Bailey (baritone) & Oleg Yanchenko (organ)

London Symphony Chorus & USSR State Symphony Orchestra, Evgeny Svetlanov & Richard Hickox (chorus-master)

Edward Elgar was one of the major representatives of British music from the period of English music renaissance. Continuing the traditions of European, primarily German musical romanticism, he embodied the most distinctive features of national culture in his works. Elgar’s genius manifested itself in a most complete fashion in symphonic and choral genres.

The Dream of Gerontius (1900), often referred to as an oratorio, is Elgar’s largest composition. The poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman, an important figure in the Church of England, thinker and poet, about a journey of a soul after death was a literary foundation of the oratorio. A deeply spiritual and religious content of the oratorio, plenty of dramatic and vivid episodes, a developed vocal and choral texture, and masterful grasp of orchestral colours made it one of the most popular works of British music along with Handel’s Messiah.

Evgeny Svetlanov, who is traditionally considered an unsurpassed performer of Russian symphonic and operatic music, not infrequently made himself known as an outstanding and inspired interpreter of West European music works. Thanks to him, some of them were performed in the former USSR for the first time. That was the case with The Dream of Gerontius, which the conductor heard in England and was amazed by its power and grandeur. It was performed with great success at the Big Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in 1983 with the participation of well-known British soloists Felicity Palmer, Arthur Davies and Norman Bailey, the London Symphony Chorus conducted by Richard Hickox and the USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov.

We present a recording of that performance.

“a powerful Gerontius, with fine British chorus and soloists...but a Russian orchestra, conducted with passionate conviction. Svetlanov and his players show thorough understanding of what Michael Kennedy calls Elgar’s masterly melodic speech rhythm, and the music flows.” Sunday Times, 22nd February 2015

“An interesting addition to the discography of The Dream of Gerontius. It’s also a valuable document, illustrating an unexpected side to this Russian conductor who could be volatile but, at his best, inspirational” MusicWeb International, February 2015

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Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius & Symphony No. 1

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius & Symphony No. 1


Elgar:

The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38

Peter Auty (tenor), Michelle Breedt (mezzo soprano) & John Hancock (baritone)

with Collegium Vocale Gent

Symphony No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 55


The Dream of Gerontius has not been released on SACD before, so for the true SACD aficionado this is a must-buy.

“On this evidence, Edo de Waart is clearly an Elgar conductor of no mean instinct. Both performances benefit from his judiciously clear-sighted direction...there's an endearing freshness, sense of new discovery and wholehearted application about this substantial undertaking.” Gramophone Magazine, December 2013

“The First Symphony, in particular, burns under a surface sheen, and “The Dream of Gerontius” is intensely played and firmly sung.” New York Times, December 2013

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Pentatone - PTC5186472

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Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius & Parry: Blest Pair of Sirens & I was glad

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius & Parry: Blest Pair of Sirens & I was glad


Elgar:

The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38

Felicity Palmer (mezzo-soprano), Arthur Davies (tenor), Gwynne Howell (bass)

Parry:

Blest Pair of Sirens

I was glad


In The Dream of Gerontius, Elgar succeeded in writing a religious choral work that fell firmly outside the established genres of either the oratorio or the cantata, and unusually the text itself was not biblical either. The score simply states ‘set to music’ and that is exactly what it is: Cardinal Newman’s poem about the journey of a man’s soul to judgement and Purgatory, set to the music of Elgar. The composer himself knew that in this work he had created something very special indeed. On the manuscript score, he quoted Ruskin: ‘This is the best of me… this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.’ It was written ‘from my insidest inside’, he confided to a friend, and to another he wrote that ‘you will find Gerontius far beyond anything I’ve yet done… I have written my own heart’s blood into the score.’

When it was first released, Gramophone wrote of Richard Hickox’s version of Gerontius: ‘Captured in sound of striking range and focus, Hickox’s bright-eyed conception evinces an almost operatic fervour.’ The Observer called it ‘a masterpiece’, continuing: ‘Arthur Davies is an exceptionally clear, strong and forthright Gerontius, Gwynne Howell a noble angel, while Felicity Palmer is a most unusual icily direct angel.’

On this disc we also have two works by Sir Charles Hubert H. Parry. Firstly, Blest Pair of Sirens, for which both Elgar and Vaughan Williams had the highest regard. This setting of words from Milton’s ode At a Solemn Musick was composed for the Bach Choir in 1887, which Stanford conducted, and it has remained a firm favourite with choirs ever since. Parry composed the anthem I was glad for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, and it has since been performed at the three subsequent coronations also (1911, 1937, and 1953) as the sovereign enters Westminster Abbey.

“Much of [Davies's] singing, especially in Part I, is full-throated, almost Italianate and he has all the vocal heft you could wish for...Howell is an imposing vocal presence...The choral singing is as good as any I’ve heard on disc...The playing of the LSO is superb throughout” MusicWeb International, 25th September 2013

“The Elgar emphasises what was lost with Hickox’s premature death. It is powerfully dramatic (the Demons have never sounded more ferociously demonic) but hypersensitive to the marvellous subtlety of orchestral and choral colour.” Sunday Times, 6th October 2013

Chandos 241 - The Hickox Legacy - CHAN241-46

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Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius & Cello Concerto

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius & Cello Concerto


Elgar:

The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38

Mark Tucker (tenor), Lilli Paasikivi (mezzo-soprano) & David Wilson-Johnson (bass baritone)

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs & TSO Chorus

Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85

Jian Wang (cello)


Sydney Symphony, Vladimir Ashkenazy

Vladimir Ashkenazy directs a stirring performance of two of Elgar’s mightiest works. The Dream of Gerontius is regarded by many as Elgar’s masterpiece. Elgar himself wrote at the end of the manuscript “This is the best of me…” Jian Wang is the soloist in the composer’s final orchestral masterwork, the Cello Concerto.

“Ashkenazy conducts with heaps of spirit, tingling drama and red-blooded commitment to the cause, and he draws an unstintingly fresh and laudably disciplined response from his massed cohorts...The coupling...has to be one of the most communicative accounts of Elgar's masterpiece to have come my way in recent years.” Gramophone Magazine, May 2012

“The chorus are well trained and disciplined although they are not as crisp or characterful as some...Worth hearing for a magnificent Angel but thereafter only fitfully engaging.” MusicWeb International, June 2012

ABC Classics - ABC4764297

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Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38


Vinson Cole (tenor), John Hancock (bass), Jane Irwin (soprano)

Bard Festival Chorale, American Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein

American Symphony Orchestra - ASO199

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Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38


Paul Groves (Gerontius), Alice Coote (Angel), Bryn Terfel (Priest/Angel of the Agony)

Halle, Hallé Choir, Hallé Youth Choir, Sir Mark Elder

Elgar’s late masterpiece is an extraordinary work full of drama and passion alongside exquisite music of sublime delicacy. It is a moving expression of the composer’s personally unorthodox religious faith and a poignant reflection on the journey of a man through death, depicted in striking writing for choir, orchestra and soloist.

“Mark Elder’s interpretation with the Hallé orchestra and choir evaded characterisation, though he stamps his dramatic instincts all over the piece. It is either a religious tone poem or a spiritual opera, either way the effect is frequently cataclysmic” The Guardian

“It is, by a mile, the best-sounding Gerontius we have had, handsome in its depth and breadth with great spatial perspectives and a wonderful sense of how the score is layered. Of course, Janet Baker's timbre still haunts every measure of the Angel's music, but the wonderful Alice Coote conveys great confidentiality in her highly personalised reading.” Gramophone Magazine, January 2009

“Paul Groves's sophisticated, elegant tenor is not ideally the sort that should be essaying this role. With Bryn Terfel… sounding a little frayed, Alice Coote makes the biggest impact. It's a lovely sound, but none of her 'Alleluias', from the most hushed to the truly exultant, can compare with those of Janet Baker for Barbirolli or Rattle. Good, then, but not great enough for this extraordinary work.” BBC Music Magazine, February 2009 ***

“For all sorts of reasons Barbirolli's famous Hallé account has lived in everyone's hearts for decades. It still will, because there is something about the immediacy and wholeheartedness of its vision that speaks as directly as ever. Mark Elder's approach is more elusive. He draws us patiently, unerringly, into the profound mystery of the piece, judiciously weighing its theatricality against its inwardness. It is reverent in the best sense, with breathless pianissimi and a potency of atmosphere that takes hold from the moment we enter the dying man's room. Just listen to the Hallé strings in the Prelude, or the introduction to Part 2. The stylistic finesse of the playing, the very particular articulation, the inbred portamento – all these qualities are testament to the fantastic work Elder has done with the orchestra.
It is, by a mile, the best-sounding Gerontius we have had, handsome in its depth and breadth with great spatial perspectives and a wonderful sense of how the score is layered. Onto this impressive sound stage comes Paul Groves's Gerontius with a near-perfect blend of poetic restraint and high emotionalism – though some may feel that the 'operatic' hot-spots, 'Take me away!' being, of course, the hottest of them – are wanting in that last degree of heft. Elder and his sound team might have given us something more startling with that chord of 'utmost force' in the moment Gerontius finally glimpses his creator.
No lack of force or presence in Bryn Terfel's proclamation to 'Go forth!' – the portals of heaven open to that, as indeed they do with the arrival of the heavenly host for the great 'Praise to the Holiest' chorus. The Hallé choir bravely gather momentum in that, thanks to Elder's insistence on clear rhythmic articulation, and he achieves a simply stonking crescendo on the final chord, leaving the organ to plumb infinite depths.
Of course, Janet Baker's timbre still haunts every measure of the Angel's music, but the wonderful Alice Coote conveys great confidentiality in her highly personalised reading. 'Softly and gently' is gloriously enveloping – and maybe that's the word which ultimately best describes this fine and most satisfying recording.”
Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010

“The orchestra and chorus are wonderfully imposing, and Elder's performance never lets you forget this is a work built out of quasi-operatic dialogues...Groves is the perfect embodiment of humanity, neither too English nor too Italianate but with all the power necessary to cope with even the most demanding vocal passages...Coote's performance is a marvel” The Guardian, 7th November 2008 *****

“Alice Coote sings radiantly…Paul Groves is a most affecting Gerontius...and Bryn Terfel is predictably commanding in both his roles...the Halle Chorus is richly expressive over the widest possible dynamic range” Penguin Guide, 2011 edition

GGramophone Awards 2009

Best of Category - Choral

Penguin Guide

Rosette Winner

Hallé - Elder Elgar Series - CDHLD7520

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$19.75

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Elgar - The Dream of Gerontius

Elgar - The Dream of Gerontius


Berlioz:

Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14

live 2nd January 1947

The Halle Orchestra

Elgar:

The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38

recorded 20th November 1957

Jon Vickers, Constance Shacklock & Marian Nowakowski

RAI Orchestra


“Vickers doesn't disappoint, singing with an intensity and a care for the sound and sense of every word that are well nigh ideal. As the Angel, Constance Shacklock, gravely beautiful if occasionally too grand, is first-class, too. The drama Barbirolli brings to the work is recognisable from his later studio account, but here the live sound is at best adequate and at worse unacceptable, with a microphone placed so close to the conductor that at times he seems to be duetting with Vickers. The orchestra and chorus do their best, which isn't quite good enough; it's Vickers who makes this a must-have.” The Guardian, 23rd May 2008 ***

Archipel Records - ARPCD0403

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Elgar: The Music Makers, Op. 69, etc.

Elgar:

The Music Makers, Op. 69

Janet Baker (mezzo-soprano)

London Philharmonic Choir & London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult

The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38

Richard Lewis (tenor), Dame Janet Baker (mezzo-Soprano) & Kim Borg (bass)

Hallé Choir, Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, Ambrosian Singers & Hallé Orchestra, John Barbirolli


This 1964 recording of The Dream of Gerontius, though made over four days at Christmas in a miserable and foggy Manchester, has long been the version of choice in round-up reviews, most recently on BBC Radio 3 in Building a Library. Besides the leading Gerontius of his day, Richard Lewis, and the tremendous doubled chorus, it established Janet Baker as a peerless Angel.

“The must-have Gerontius, recorded in the idealised soundscape so beloved of the 1960s, where choir and soloists are close-miked and crystal-clear. Richard Lewis's well-groomed, classic tones and Barbirolli's deep understanding result in a benchmark reading.” BBC Music Magazine, December 2007 *****

Building a Library

First Choice - October 2006

Warner Classics Great Recordings of the Century - 3919782

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Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius


Elgar:

The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38

Severn Suite, Op. 87


CRD - CRD3326-7

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$14.25

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Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38, etc.

Elgar:

The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38

Walton:

Belshazzar's Feast


Warner Classics - Classics for Pleasure - 5757642

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