My dream Gerontius
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 03/07/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I love the Britten recording of Gerontius, but Barbirolli's somewhat romantic approach brings something to it that Britten's slight dryness erodes. Both Barbirolli and Britten manage the very tricky 'Demons' section better than anyone; often it falls apart in live performance, and Boult, in his recording, doesn't quite pull it off, either. Isn't it interesting that neither Britten or Barbirolli was a particularly experienced choral conductor, but each succeeds with the choral passages where others don't? The orchestra is superb, too, in this recording and the moments of almost-silent Elgarian ecstasy make time stop. Lewis is superb; Baker *is* the Angel. You can't go wrong here."
KH | Chicago, IL | 02/07/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There is no better recording of this piece; only Sir Adrian Boult's equals it, in its own way. The recorded sound remains outstanding, for its age. The role of the Angel was one of Baker's signature pieces; Lewis was probably the premiere Gerontius of the 50s and 60s, and while many tenors may have better voices technically, his muscianship is so intelligent and insightful that no one has really surpassed him in the role. Barbirolli brings an almost operatic drama to the work, feeling every note to the core of his being. Thank you, EMI, for restoring this to the catalogue!"
Almost an unequivocal first choice
Ahmed E. Ismail | Cambridge, MA United States | 01/02/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Perhaps part of what sets this recording apart from its competitors is Barbirolli's overall conception of the work: the liner notes point out that he always called the work Elgar's "*Dream,*" and not "Gerontius." This seemingly simple change results in a completely different outlook on the work. In emphasizing the dream-like quality of the work, Barbirolli is at once more daring and more orthodox than his competitors, allowing the quirkiness of Elgar's orchestration and choral writing to burst out time and time again, here cellos coming to the fore, there a clarinet emerging in sudden duet with one of the soloists. Barbirolli is doing nothing more than giving us what's on the page, but what a difference this makes!As for the soloists, there's no doubt in my mind that Janet Baker's performance of the Angel sets this version apart from all others. From her first entrance to her "Farewell" at the end of the work, there is no doubt that she is without equal in this music. Once she starts singing, there is no one else you can imagine performing it any better. And while she has all the warmth and expressiveness one could wish for in the lower register, she still has lovely high notes, including brilliant high A's just before the two climactic points of Part Two.In addition, I prefer Richard Lewis's rendition of the title character to Gedda for Boult and Pears for Britten. Elgar's writing for Gerontius is not "English"; it calls for a style of singing that is almost belongs to the romantic Italian tradition of Rossini and Verdi. As a result, Lewis's bigger voice seems able to convey Gerontius's terror and wonder in a way that his rivals cannot. At the start of his final solo, "Take me away," only Lewis sounds completely overwhelmed; Pears and Gedda seem merely exhausted in comparison.The combined choral forces also outshine all of their rivals, so that not only is all the text clearly heard throughout the work, but it is also communicated with greater expression. One can point out the "Demon" chorus, where one can almost hear the acid dripping from the choristers' tongues amid their snarls and cackles. Yet, just a few pages later, in the central "Praise to the Holiest," the demons have been tamed and sing a brilliant paean to God.The one sticking point is in the performance of bass Kim Borg as the Priest in Part One and the Angel of the Agony in Part Two. While a decent performance in its own way, he is not nearly so compelling as Shirley-Quirk for Britten, Lloyd for Boult, or even Best on the otherwise dismissable Naxos recording. Perhaps the peculiarity of his English accent makes it difficult to take, but he simply does not sound convincing in his two solos, although it is clear that he has the necessary vocal heft to carry over both the chorus and the orchestra in what is very dense writing.So, this should be the clear first-runner if one is interested in the Dream of Gerontius. The other alternative is Britten's, although it is at times a little too eccentric for general consumption. However, Britten's performance on Decca is coupled with Delius's Sea-Drift and another work by Holst, whereas Barbirolli's has no pairing. [Why they don't offer "Sea Pictures" or orchestral Elgar or Delius is beyond me.][P.S. In all fairness, it should be pointed out that Britten certainly knew a lot about choral conducting, as evidenced not only by his own Gerontius, but also works like the St. John Passion and Schumann's Szenen aus Goethes "Faust."]"