Piano Quintet in A minor, Op.84
Bartosz Woroch & Pablo Hernan Benedi (violins), Evgenia Vynogradska (viola), Michael Petrov (cello) and Cordelia Williams (piano)
The Kingdom, Op.51 – Oratorio in Five Parts to a text compiled by the composer
Susan Gritton (soprano; Mary), Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano; Mary Magdalene), Stuart Skelton (tenor; John) & Iain Paterson (bass; Peter)
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Mark Elder
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 30 January, 2011
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
This was a magnificent account. Mark Elder has a great love for the score and a lucid understanding of how it works structurally, and how its orchestral virtuosity and choral subtleties continually jostle for supremacy. The orchestration has all the deft immediacy of the much-later Symphonic study that is Falstaff, and the chorus in all its hugely varied music was as understated a protagonist as each of the four soloists, and stunningly well sung by the London Symphony Chorus, pinning us back with an overwhelming “O ye priests”, and delivering a first Pentecost of awe-inspiring power. The combination of the work’s minimal narrative (not the case in “The Dream of Gerontius”) and Elder’s objective approach to the music and its web of thematic references provided the perfect context for its mysteries to bloom, with superb playing from the LSO, of the sort that makes you wonder, all over again, how Elgar could hear and achieve such a depth and iridescence of sound.
In the central role of Peter, Iain Paterson (a finely sung Don Giovanni for ENO under his belt this season) had authority, directness and passion as the rock on which the church is built (he is just as impressive on Elder‘s recording of “The Kingdom”, on the Hallé’s own label) and was unforgettable in Part Three’s “I have prayed for thee”. Stuart Skelton sang in spite of an occasionally-audible chest infection. He was at his considerable best in the Arrest scene of Part Four, and his lyricism was not too compromised. (Both men are in ENO’s forthcoming “Parsifal”, which opens on 16 February.) The mezzo part of Mary Magdalene is not that large but Sarah Connolly was compelling in “And suddenly there came from heaven”, and her duet with the soprano that opens Part Two was similarly absorbing. Susan Gritton (a late replacement for Cheryl Barker) was consistently very fine as Mary, and transcendentally intense in “The sun goeth down”, which in her moving performance became the logical resolution of everything Mary prayed for in the ‘Magnificat’.
An hour or so before the LSO concert, five Guildhall Artists (senior students at the Guildhall School for Music & Drama) played Elgar’s Piano Quintet, a late and very grand work. It was given a terrific, rhapsodic performance, one fully alive to the piece stretching the boundaries of chamber music.