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Elgar took some time to respond to the commission from the Birmingham Festival, the result of which was a lack of adequate rehearsal time, and though the first performance was a great disappointment, its immense importance did not go unnoticed by those who could hear. In this recording, celebrating Elgar's 150th birthday, it comes back again to Birmingham where, on 3 October 1900 it was first heard, and to their current magnificent forces under the direction of Sakari Oramo, with Simon Halsey's exuberant City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, both as Demons [listen -- CD2 track 6, 0:00-1:34] and as the Choir of Angelicals [listen -- CD2 track 8, 0:00-1:10].

From the outset (in Part 1, Gerontius -- or simply 'the old man' -- is alive but close to death) Justin Lavender sings the huge principal part superbly giving it warmth and following its glorious contours with sympathetic understanding [listen -- CD1 track 18, 0:24-1:28]. In Part 2 he becomes the Soul of the old man, guided through Heaven by the Angel, sung in lovely Elgarian style by mezzo soprano Jane Irwin [listen -- CD2 track 3, 1:42-3:09]. The third soloist is bass Peter Rose, who makes a strong appearance as the Angel of Agony, and whose words are heard just before the Soul goes toward the final judgment -- a solo well worth waiting for [listen -- CD2 track 16, 0:02-1:04].

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Copyright © 19 September 2007 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK


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