Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: The Dream of Gerontius
PERFORMER: David Rendall (tenor), Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Alastair Miles (bass); London Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Colin Davis
This has ingredients that could have contributed to a great Gerontius. Colin Davis brings the symphonic and the dramatic elements together in a way few modern versions can match. He may be a little too lovingly indulgent for some tastes – the concluding ‘softly and gently’ is very slow – but from the awestruck beginning the sense of involvement in the orchestral playing draws


one right into the performance.

The chorus, too, sings with spirit and understanding – a little thin soprano tone here or there hardly matters. As the Angel, Anne Sophie von Otter brings purity and a welcome absence of conventional English religiosity: her final ‘Alleluia’ is quietly riveting. Only tenderness is missing in her closing aria. As the priest in Part I, Alastair Miles’s ‘Go forth’ is authoritative and moving without any kind of exaggeration.

The main problem is David Rendall as Gerontius himself. Take a few short passages in isolation – for example the final great wave of ‘Sanctus fortis’ – and Rendall might well raise a tingle or two. But his virtually constant intense vibrato tires the ear after a while. Rendall has nothing like the range of colour and expression John Mark Ainsley brought to the role in the Handley/EMI Eminence recording, nor the dramatic cogency of Richard Lewis in the older EMI Barbirolli – the version which, though it isn’t flawless, remains my favourite overall.


It’s a tribute to Davis that this Gerontius does generally keep its hold to the end, and the recording finds more atmosphere in the Barbican acoustic than one might expect. But in the end this feels more like a great might-have-been than the real thing. Stephen Johnson