Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius' from Birmingham -
'... a rich performance by both chorus and orchestra ...'
The turning of the last century was a time when large-scale choral works in England were still commissioned and rehearsed with enthusiasm -- and there were a great many. Coleridge-Taylor's Hiawatha (described by Parry, himself no mean contributor to the genre, as 'one of the most remarkable events in modern musical history') was first heard in 1898 when Elgar was writing Enigma, and within the next decade came works by C V Stanford, Walford Davies, Granville Bantock's Omar Khay'am, Ethel Smyth's Mass, and a good many long forgotten works by almost forgotten composers writing competently for the Choral Festivals that flourished in rude health throughout the country.
There are few survivors from those times -- perhaps John Stainer's Crucifixion is still heard -- for all have been overshadowed and overpowered by Elgar's monumental Dream of Gerontius, not an oratorio (he didn't like the term) but a choral work of such consummate mastery, not only of choral writing and orchestration, but of structural command and devout spiritual commitment, that understandably no other substantial choral works of that time can endure beside.
Copyright © 19 September 2007
Patric Standford, Wakefield UK