A performance of Elgar's 'The Dream of Gerontius'
impresses MIKE WHEELER
This (Derby Cathedral, UK, 4 March 2006) was the third performance of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius Derby Bach Choir has given in the last fifteen years or so. I remember being thoroughly impressed on those two previous occasions, but this was simply stunning. It made its mark by treating the work not as a theological treatise but as a compelling, very human, emotional drama. Much hinged on conductor Richard Roddis's skilful pacing, from his unhurried but purposeful direction in the Prelude which allowed the climaxes to bloom, to his smooth dovetailing of the succeeding episodes in the main body of the work.
The choral singing blazed with conviction. The Demons' Chorus had a splendidly gutsy sense of malice without, mercifully, recourse to silly, cackly voices, while the impact of 'Praise to the Holiest' was electrifying. The layering of tone between the full chorus, semi-chorus and Derby Cathedral Girls' Choir (on assured and remarkably mature-sounding form) was superbly judged. Derby Bach Orchestra gave polished and well-balanced support.
Adrian Thompson. Photo © Helen English
Adrian Thompson's heroic-voiced Gerontius confronted his supreme spiritual crisis with a believable mixture of faith and panic. In Part One his tone on top notes tended to be unstable, but this settled down after the interval. Derby Bach Choir's Patron, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, is one of the leading current exponents of the role of the Angel. Her warm, radiant performance was marked, particularly, by the kind of soft singing that quietly compels your attention. There was something almost scary about the power and authority of Matthew Rose's Priest; his remarkable voice, dark, weighty but clear, was ideal for both this and the Angel of the Agony.
An acquaintance came up to me in the interval and said; 'This is the best Gerontius I've ever heard in my life!' I think I'm inclined to agree.
Copyright © 9 March 2006
Mike Wheeler, Derby UK