Review: The Dream of Gerontius – Oxford Bach Choir/CBSO, December 8, Sheldonian Theatre
Elgar’s masterful setting of Cardinal Newman’s 1865 visionary poem, which follows the journey of a dying man’s soul through to the afterlife, makes huge demands on its performers, in terms of both stamina and technique. Fortunately, the combined forces of the Oxford Bach Choir and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, under the sterling guidance of conductor Benjamin Nicholas, were more than up for the task, delivering a committed, passionate performance with great energy and flair.
If the choir’s words were occasionally lost in the tsunami of sound, their singing was consistently excellent, with crisp entries, some glorious, seemingly effortless top notes from the sopranos, and a keen observation of the diversity in mood and tempo, from the hushed tones of the Kyrie eleison to the full-on, spine-tingling renditions of Praise to the Holiest in the height.
Tenor Ed Lyon sang the role of Gerontius movingly and convincingly throughout, sublimely expressive in the first part and with a greater sense of urgency in the second. Kathryn Rudge’s Angel was full of warmth and tenderness, and the pair interacted well in their Part II dialogue. And what a treat to have Roderick Williams, perched in one of the Proctors’ boxes, singing the dual roles of the Priest and the Angel of Agony, both imbued with his customary authority and finesse.
This was a deeply satisfying performance of one of the greatest works of the choral repertoire, one that Elgar himself felt to be “the best of me”. There was a palpable rapport between choir, orchestra and soloists, and Benjamin Nicholas’s close observance of tempo and dynamics gave full rein to the theatricality, grandeur and spirituality of the piece and ensuring a stirring and memorable experience.
Catch Oxford Bach Choir again on Saturday 21st December in their traditional Carols for All at the Sheldonian Theatre. www.oxfordbachchoir.org