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I have half a dozen versions of "Gerontius" on CD—Colin Davis/LSO; Barbirolli/Halle; Boult/New Philharmonia; Hickox/LSO; Elder/Halle; and Gibson/RSNO, and the latter is easily on a level with all of the others I mentioned (the Colin Davis is my least favourite of the batch). All three soloists in Sir Alexander's version are superb. The more I listen to it the more I have become convinced that "Gerontius" is Elgar's masterpiece. This is a recording that will not disappoint. A bonus is a lighter and less-known but most pleasant work of Elgar's for brass instruments, "The Severn Suite".
Firstly this IS a review of the de Waart recording.
I listened to this set in reverse order - Symphony no.1 first and then The Dream of Gerontius. The major problem with both works is the blandness of it all. Take the Symphony, one of the greatest ever composed and, when played well it, like the Second Symphony, goes into some very dark places indeed, no (or very little) Victorian and Edwardian grandeur about this music (maybe I'm being a bit biassed having just heard an astonishing performance in Symphony Hall, Birmingham recently conducted by Ed Gardner). Here it all comes out a bit samey and monochrome particularly in the inner movements. The Scherzo just goes along, but there's no terror in it so the contrast between the nightmarish march music and the peaceful music inspired by the River Wye is lost. The gorgeous slow movement (one of the greatest ever written) is similar. This movement contains some of the most emotional music - full of sadness and regret - that Elgar ever wrote, yet here it just sounds like a 'lovely dream' meandering on it's way. The final bars just do not send a shiver down the spine that, for instance, Barbirolli's Kings Lynn performance does. The outer movements are slightly better. Turning to the performance of 'Gerontius' the same problems surface. Yes it's well played and sung, though I would have welcomed a darker voice for the Priest/Angel of the Agony (Roderick Williams is fabulous in this part)and Peter Auty sounds uncomfortable on occasion, but, again, it's just too dry and emotionless for my liking. Take for instance the two 'big' male-voice moments in Part 1 - Gerontius's "Sanctus fortis, Sanctus Deus......." (fig.40) and the Priest's "Profiscere, anima Christiana,....." (fig.Read more ›
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There have been some wonderful recordings of this work but my favourites are this one and the Vienna version in German from the Elgar Society. Alfreda Hodgson, Robert Tear and Ben Luxon are as good as any of their rivals and the recording is clear and full. Sir Alexander Gibson is clearly fully in sympathy with the piece. I had the LPs for many years and was delighted to be able to buy the CD version.