The Dream of Gerontius, Op.38
Anna Larsson (mezzo-soprano)
Philip Langridge (tenor)
Peter Coleman-Wright (baritone)
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 3 June, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Simply put, this was the most magnificent, moving, thrilling and inspirational performance of “The Dream of Gerontius” one could hope to hear: especially apt for Elgar’s 150th-anniversary – he was born on 2 June 1857.
This was a genuinely exciting account (the ‘Demon’s Chorus’ was chilling) and had moments of supreme calm (the heart-stopping moment when the Soul goes before his judge is one but example). What was in no doubt was the direction that Richard Hickox brought to bear. Conducting without the score, Hickox is entirely sympathetic to the music whilst, at the same time, knowing exactly what is required. The only break, mercifully, between the oratorio’s two parts was to allow Anna Larsson her entrance.
Elgar’s debt to Wagner was obvious throughout – the way in which Hickox managed to convey a sense of a journey, the music constantly moving forward. The precision of the London Symphony Orchestra’s playing in the ‘Prelude’ gave the climaxes a shattering and overwhelming quality and, elsewhere, the sweetest sounds were produced.
The London Symphony Chorus delivered its lines with crystal-clear clarity. A radiant account of ‘Praise to the Holiest’ evoked the glory of God and His presence perfectly. The pianissimo close of this was held for as long as Hickox seemed to dare and led into the reverence evoked by the Angel as she guides the Soul to his Judgement. Anna Larsson seemed the ideal escort for the Soul: her diction, like all of the soloists, was spot-on, such that one did not require Cardinal Newman’s text in printed form. At the end her optimism for the future in the farewells was tangible.
Peter Coleman-Wright’s all-too-brief contributions as the Priest and the Angel of the Agony were impressive, with the latter very dark and unsettling in character. Along with Hickox, though, Philip Langridge (recovering from flu) held the piece together. His varying tone and powerful voice gave the character of Gerontius genuine pathos. Completely wearied at the close of Part One he was a man transformed by the end of the work, ready for the End.
Throughout, the LSO was in exemplary form and provided just support for the singers on this memorable traversal. The rapt silence at the end, lasting more than a minute, was proof, if any were needed, of the impact that this performance had made. What an occasion on which Principal Trumpet Maurice Murphy to retire, after a distingtuished 30-year career with the LSO.