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Barbirolli: Elgar – The Dream of Gerontius (24/192 FLAC)

Barbirolli: Elgar - The Dream of Gerontius (24/192 FLAC)

Barbirolli: Elgar – The Dream of Gerontius (24/192 FLAC)

Composer: Edward Elgar
Performer: Ambrosian Singers, Hallé Choir, Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, Richard Lewis, Kim Borg, Dame Janet Baker
Orchestra: Hallé Orchestra
Conductor: Sir John Barbirolli
Format: FLAC (tracks)
Label: Warner
Release: 1965/2021
Size: 3.79 GB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: cover

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38:
01. Prelude. Lento, mistico
02. Jesu, Maria, I Am Near to Death (Gerontius)
03. Kyrie eleison – Holy Mary, Pray for Him (Gerontius, Chorus)
04. Rouse Thee, My Fainting Soul (Gerontius, Chorus)
05. Be Merciful
06. Sanctus fortis, Sanctus Deus (Gerontius)
07. I Can No More (Gerontius, chorus)
08. Rescue Him, O Lord – Noe from the Waters (Gerontius, Chorus)
09. Novissima hora est (Chorus, Gerontius)
10. Proficiscere, anima Christiana (Priest)
11. Go in the Name of Angels and Archangels (Chorus, Priest)
12. Andantino
13. I Went to Sleep (Soul of Gerontius)
14. My Work Is Done (Soul, Angel)
15. It Is a Member of That Family – All Hail! My Child and Brother (Angel, Soul)
16. A Presage Falls (Angel, Soul)
17. But Hark! – Low-Born Clods of Brute Earth (Soul, Angel, Chorus)
18. Dispossessed, Aside Thrust (Chorus)
19. The Mind Bold and Independent (Chorus)
20. I See Not These False Spirits – There Was a Mortal (Soul, Angel)
21. Praise to the Holiest (Angel, Chorus, Soul)
22. Glory To Him – But Hark! A Grand Mysterious Harmony (Sould, Angel, Chorus)
23. And Now the Threshold – Praise for the Holiest (Soul, Angel, Chorus)
24. Thy Judgement Now Is Near (Angel, Soul)
25. Jesu! By That Shuddering Dread (Angel of the Agony, Soul, Chorus)
26. I Go Before My Judge – Be Merciful, Be Gracious (Angel of the Agony, Soul, Chorus)
27. Praise to His Name! – Take Me Away (Angel, Soul, Chorus)
28. Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge (Angel, Soul, Chorus)
29. Softly and Gently (Angel, Chorus)

I began listening to Edward Elgar’s “Dream of Gerontius” through the fine Adrian Boult recording done with Nicolai Gedda and for a while was unsure whether I liked the work, although I kept listening to it, which is always a good sign. I then acquired the John Barbirolli recording under review here, kept listening to it and at some point became completely sucked in by its fervor and musical inspiration. Sucked in as being at work and looking forward to the end of the day so I could listen to the chorus of the damned in Part II of the “Dream.” This is great music and a great performance. It is old-fashioned in every way, from its propriety, to its exalted, precious Catholic text, to the somewhat stilted, antiquated singing style of its soloists, to its emphasis on high-mindedness, so different from today’s steady drumbeat of total personal disclosure, relaxed, unschooled singing style, and “nostalgie de la boue” (attraction for the low). The “Dream” dates from 1900 and sounds like something from a radically different era, but appreciating old art is partly about travelling into an older culture, with its different perspective and lessons.

This recording dates from 1964, when the English conductor John Barbirolli was in the midst of recording a series of inspired Elgar interpretations. It is close in quality to his version of the symphonies and the famed Cello Concerto disc with Jacqueline du Pre. Barbirolli and the Halle Orchestra stress emotion and a beautiful sense of pacing. He is helped by two superb soloists, the tenor Richard Lewis as Gerontius and famed mezzo Janet Baker as the Angel, both at the peak of their powers. As I stated in the prior paragraph, this is very old-fashioned singing. One can even describe it as unnatural and stilted. But it is likely stylistically correct – all the performers were directly in the line of early 20th-century British oratorio performance – and, given the skill and expressivity of the singing, I accepted their stylistic approach and appreciated its artistry. The choral singing is very good.

I will point out two flaws: 1) like one of the other reviewers here, I find Kim Borg leaden with a thick, unflexible voice; 2) the recorded sonics are very good, but the remastering has boosted the volume (much like pop music tracks of the last decade) which adds some artificiality.

But these are quibbles. This Barbirolli “Dream” is one of the great oratorio performances I have ever heard, it is emotional and coherent, Lewis and Baker are outstanding, and it becomes more and more interesting the more time you spend with it.

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