WORKS: The Dream of Gerontius
PERFORMER: William Kendall (tenor), Sarah Fryer (mezzo-soprano), Matthew Best (bass-baritone); Waynflete Singers, Bournemouth SO & Chorus/David Hill
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553885/86
If you heard this Gerontius at a concert, you’d probably consider it enjoyable enough. The choral singing is thoroughly reliable, the soloists are committed (if, for the most part, not particularly distinguished), the orchestral playing is fine and David Hill’s sympathy with Elgar’s powerfully visionary world is not in doubt.
But it is hardly the kind of interpretation to encourage repeated listening, and its electric charge at key moments is not always high. The acceleration at the end of the Angelicals’ chorus, for instance, seems imposed from outside the music and does not capture Elgar’s glorious exultation, while the poignant serenity of the close draws a rather flat response.
Crucially, the soloists, with one exception, seem ill cast: Matthew Best sings a noble Priest and a darkly beseeching Angel of the Agony, but William Kendall’s Gerontius lacks a full-bodied top register and Sarah Fryer fails to thrill as the Angel.
The Bournemouth SO, on the other hand, contributes warmly to the performance, and its expressive intensity in the Prelude launches the interpretation splendidly. If only David Hill could have sustained this level throughout. As it is, his reading rarely catches fire and we are left with an uneven impression: the elevated alternating with the ordinary. Anthony Payne