The Dream of Gerontius, Op.38
Gerontius/Soul of Gerontius Glenn Winslade
Angel Pamela Helen Stephen
Priest/Angel of the Agony Joshua Bloom
West Australian Symphony Chorus
West Australian Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: William Yeoman
Reviewed: 13 April, 2007
Venue: Perth Concert Hall, Western Australia
This was the first time the West Australian Symphony Orchestra had performed “The Dream of Gerontius”, and under the safe baton of experienced Elgarian Richard Hickox, this was very impressive indeed.
Both the WAS Chorus and the excellent Melbourne Chorale delivered the musical goods in abundance. Despite the nearly 200 voices, there was a clarity and precision here, especially in the diction, that was matched only by the richness and warmth of the overall sound. This was just as evident in the beautiful ‘Kyrie eleison’ and other similar points of serenity as it was in the furious fugal section of the ‘Demons’ Chorus’. Both Jonathan Grieves-Smith (Melbourne Chorale) and Marilyn Phillips (WASO) are to be congratulated.
Richness and warmth there was to be found in the orchestral playing as well, with all departments seemingly able to sublimate the religious sentiment of the work and filter its force through some tremendous playing of real verve and sensitivity – obvious right away in the opening ‘Prelude’, the motifs given the import of chinks of light that would later expand to flood the music with spiritual meaning. The brass was particularly impressive, as were the strings.
For the most part, the soloists were persuasive and eloquent, however their diction was sometimes less than clear, which might have marred an otherwise sublime musical experience for any first-time listeners in the audience. I question, too, whether young bass Joshua Bloom is able to bring the required gravitas to the parts of ‘Priest’ and ‘Angel of the Agony’ at this stage in his career.
All in all, though, this was a triumph, and Perth listeners should feel privileged at having had an opportunity to hear this masterpiece live, firstly at all, and secondly so well performed.