Dream of Gerontius review


City of Birmingham Choir at Birmingham Town Hall ****

Hearing the Dream of Gerontius in the Birmingham Town Hall where it first came into the world is always something very special, and though so much has changed regarding the stage layout, the choir stalls and the audience seating, some reminders of that early autumn morning in 1900 remain: the magnificently imposing organ, and the gallery restored to its original level, revealing the full length of the windows.
Elgar would have applauded the technical accuracy of Sunday's performance from the City of Birmingham Choir and the remarkable Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra under the calm, understated conducting of Adrian Lucas, but I feel he would have been disappointed in an account which held back from the last degree of emotional involvement.
Certainly there was some fine choral singing, beginning with the unaccompanied Kyrie Eleison which had so jinxed the premiere. Diction was exemplary throughout, pitching was secure, but projection could have been stronger; an underpowered Demons' Chorus lacked venom, and Praise to the Holiest might have been more incandescent. It was only in the concluding Lord, Thou hast been our refuge, taken at a bravely measured speed by Lucas, that we felt a genuine thrill on the back of the neck.
The BPO played adroitly, with magnificently sonorous brass; tone from the upper strings, however, was occasionally thin. Never mind, they did Elgar's imaginative scoring proud.
David Butt Philip was a Gerontius wide-eyed in anguish, properly operatic in the flexibility of his delivery, and Morgan Pearse sang authoritatively in his two cameos as the Priest and the Angel of the Agony.
And as Gerontius' guardian Angel, Kathryn Rudge was simply outstanding, warm of tone, compassionate, and capable of sustaining lengthy phrases at a reverential pace. It's a pity that the 32-foot stop of the organ produced such a disturbingly throbbing sound to underpin her more portentous utterances. A pity, too, that a proof-reading slip in the programme-book described her as a "Messo Soprano".

Christopher Morley

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