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Customer Review

on 24 February 2014
I do not know what is going on at Amazon but this review has, for no reason at all suddenly appeared on the listing for Alexander Gibson's recording of this work. Yet again Amazon let everyone down with their sloppy unprofessional behaviour!!

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.69) two passages which usually send shivers up my spine. Here they do nothing, the singers might as well be singing a list of cooking ingredients. Not that you want it too be an overemotional wallow but it needs a bit more 'oomph' than it gets here. Barbirolli's wonderful recording has been criticism for being 'too operatic' - a bit of that would not come amiss here.
Another thing that might put prospective purchasers off is the way Part Two of 'Gerontius' is split. This occurs where the LP side change between sides 3 & 4 used to - at fig. 101. It's as good a place as any and was unavoidable on an LP. The problem is, it breaks the listeners concentration - having to leap up and swap the CDs. Inevitably the contrast is lost between the crescendo starting at 'fff' and the sudden 'ppp' low 'C' on the Timpani leading into the Larghetto section that follows and the climax of the work at fig.120 (one of the most astonishing passages in all music). Whilst this set is good value I would have preferred it to be on '3 discs for 2' to avoid the break. That said, it's good to see a European orchestra and Edo de Waart, a great conductor of late Romantic music, tackling Elgar and I'm sorry to give it a somewhat lukewarm review - it's just too bland for my liking.
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