Elgar - The Dream of Gerontius
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Cat No: 4831585
Number of Discs: 2
Release Date: 7th July 2017
ArtistsCatherine Wyn Rogers (mezzo-soprano)
Andrew Staples (tenor)
Thomas Hampson (baritone)
This is Barenboim’s first recording of Elgar’s greatest choral masterpiece, featuring the finest array of English-speaking soloists: Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Andrew Staples and Thomas Hampson.
‘Barenboim's long association with, and love for, Elgar has effectively made it part of his musical DNA’ - Gramophone
‘Barenboim made this a Gerontius of transcendental splendour’ - Financial Times
‘If anyone can make a case for Elgar outside Britain, and without special pleading, it’s Daniel Barenboim, returning to conduct this British composer’s works’ - New York Times
2Jesu Maria - I am near to death
4Rouse thee, my fainting soul
5Be merciful, be gracious; spare him, Lord
6Sanctus fortis, Sanctus Deus
7I can no more; for now it comes again
8Rescue him, O Lord, in this his evil hour
9Novissima hora est
10Proficiscere, anima Christiana, de hoc mundo!
11Go, in the name of Angels and Archangels
13I went to sleep; and now I am refresh'd
14My work is done, my task is o'er
15Low-born clods of brute earth
16The mind bold and independent
17I see not those false spirits
18Praise to the Holiest in the height
19Glory to Him, who evermore by truth and justice reigns
20But hark! a grand mysterious harmony
21And now the threshold, as we traverse it
22Praise to the Holiest in the height
23Thy judgment now is near
24Jesu! by that shuddering dread which fell on Thee
25Praise to His Name! O happy, suffering soul!
26Take me away, and in the lowest deep there let me be
27Lord, Thou hast been our refuge
28Softly and gently, dearly-ransom'd soul
Thankfully, you’d never guess at these pre-performance disruptions, such is the assurance, conviction and intensity that all the artists bring to this memorable account. Staples is a light-toned Gerontius, bringing out the fragility of the old man as he approaches death in Part I, while in Part II he combines human fragility with spiritual resolution and passion as his Soul makes its journey to Purgatory. Catherine Wyn-Rogers brings all her experience in the role of the Angel to bear on this music: her voice is not as youthful as it was in Andrew Davis’s recording, but it is now rich in wisdom (textual and musical) and, like Staples, her diction is crystal-clear. Her dialogue with the Soul of Gerontius in Part II is among the most memorable and affecting on disc, thanks both to the soloists themselves and to Barenboim’s unerring sense of the music’s long line.
The score’s purple passages make their mark with unusual potency, too: Hampson and the chorus of Assistants lead a rousing close to Parts I (‘Proficiscere… Go, in the name of Angels’), the chorus of Demons is thrillingly vivid with skilfully deployed rubato, and ‘Praise to the Holiest in the height’ is simply glorious. The combined forces of the Staatsopernchor Berlin and the RIAS Kammerchor need fear no comparison with native British choirs, for they are both immaculately drilled (by Martin Wright and Justin Doyle respectively) and brilliantly responsive to the subtlest of Barenboim’s (and Elgar’s) nuances. Hampson is even finer as the Angel of the Agony in Part II, which better suits his stentorian tone.
Above all, Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin are on the form of their lives, from the broadly-paced Prelude (richly bringing out all the once-controversial Wagnerian resonances), to the jaw-dropping moment in Part II where Gerontius is briefly granted a glimpse of the Almighty: the flash is achieved with all the controlled force one expects from such a top-notch ensemble. The closing pages have about them a radiant tenderness that stays with the listener long after the disc has stopped playing, and Barenboim’s direction throughout is deeply considered and imaginatively re-thought.
Traditionalists may encounter a few surprises with some of the conductor’s speeds (slow and fast), but this is a recording that can take its place proudly alongside the chalk-and-cheese classics of Boult and Barbirolli, combining as it does Boult’s resolute poise and Barbirolli’s passionate involvement. Among modern accounts, only Elder and the Hallé come close to Barenboim’s level of musicality and perception.
Following the near-disastrous 1900 premiere of Gerontius in Birmingham, it was performances in Germany that restored Elgar’s faith in his creation, before the work was eventually taken up by British choirs. In the years since, it has been regarded as a quintessentially British work, but Barenboim’s Berlin account may well come to be seen as a second homecoming for music that deserves to break loose from such labels. Elgarians of all hues should hear it without hesitation, opening their ears and minds to a performance freed from the fetters of narrow national categories. Newman’s text and Elgar’s music deserve no less.
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