Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: The Dream of Gerontius
PERFORMER: Richard Lewis (tenor), Janet Baker (mezzo-soprano), Kim Borg (bass); Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, Ambrosian Singers, Hallé Orchestra & Choir/John Barbirolli
CATALOGUE NO: CZS 5 73579 2 ADD Reissue (1964)
Barbirolli and The Dream of Gerontius have special connections: Gerontius was begun the year Barbirolli was born, and 70 years later was played in a memorial concert for him. It is pleasing to note, then, that Barbirolli’s 1964 recording of the work is still one of the best. As with all Barbirolli’s Elgar recordings, its dramatic impact remains startling and fresh. Richard Lewis and Kim Borg deliver richly characterised performances in the male roles, but the star soloist is Janet Baker, whose meticulously controlled passion and perfect diction set a standard few can rise to. All the more pity that EMI have ungenerously removed her Sea Pictures that filled this set in a previous incarnation. The compensation of ‘digital remastering’ makes for a poor bargain for the listener. Versions by Richard Hickox (Chandos) and Adrian Boult (EMI) are certainly worth a listen, but Barbirolli’s would be my benchmark recording. Christopher Wood