The Dream of Gerontius at Colston Hall
Mark Padmore joins Bristol Choral Society and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for some enchanting Elgar
When Edward Elgar completed The Dream of Gerontius in 1900 it was received as a triumph and a disaster in equal measure. While the premiere was sabotaged by a lack of rehearsal time and general commitment to the work on the part of the performers, critics lauded it a work of genius, recognising the influence of Wagner and Brahms on Elgar’s treatment of music and text. Based on Cardinal Newman’s poem depicting a man’s dying moments and consequent journey through Purgatory, the piece is often referred to as an oratorio despite Elgar’s insistence that ‘no word has yet been invented to describe it.’ Whatever its genre, it’s certainly not devoid of extraordinarily moving orchestral writing, enormous devotional clout and powerful statements from all three solo parts.
Bristol Choral Society chose the monumental work to begin its 125th anniversary season and presented a fine performance of it at Colston Hall on Saturday (29 November). Welcoming tenor Mark Padmore, mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley and baritone David Stout as soloists, the choir and its director Adrian Partington presented a passionate and sensitive interpretation of Elgar’s crowning choral work.
The heartrending prelude to Part I was given rich and luscious treatment by the players of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, while still retaining the poignant fragility required to evoke a man’s final living moments. A unified sound from the strings and delicate tapering between sections of the orchestra, including between tutti and solo phrases (cello solos from Jesper Svedberg particularly stood out), allowed for beautiful nuances in the colours and textures.
Padmore was in fine voice as Gerontius (and then his disembodied soul), entering with an impassioned ‘Jesu Maria’ after the sumptuous prelude. He was equally matched by Stout, first playing the priest and then as the frightful Angel of Agony condemning Gerontius to a life in Purgatory. Bickley had strength as Gerontius’s consoling guardian Angel, though there were moments where her voice felt a little strained. Still, her performance offered as moving a farewell to Gerontius in the piece’s final bars as any.
No interval made for a lengthy stint, but it was worth it for the atmosphere.
- Article Type: | Blog |