Edward Elgar’s oratorio ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ sets to music the epic poem of Cardinal John Newman, which details the death of Gerontius and his journey into purgatory. It is a beautiful piece of music running just over an hour and a half, in two parts, for orchestra, choir, and three soloists – tenor, bass, and mezzo soprano.
The Royal Festival Hall in the Southbank Centre was the venue for the Southbank Sinfonia’s version of this oratorio last week; with the London Concert Choir, Adrian Thompson as Gerontius and the Soul of Gerontius, Jennifer Johnston as the Angel, and Brindley Sherratt as the Priest and the Angel of the Agony. The conductor was Mark Forkgen.
This oratorio soars or falls on the gifts of both singer and orchestra as a coherent whole; and in particular the London Concert Choir excelled here, especially during the chorus of Devils where they tempt the Soul into the pit of fire. In the soloists, Thompson was especially affecting, with Sherratt’s Angel of the Agony piece working very well.
Newman’s poem is a touching piece of religious faith and the mysteries of death and life thereafter, but you don’t have to believe in the concepts surrounding the words of the oratorio to be touched by the musical sounds which occur during the piece. And in this, the Southbank Sinfonia, their solo singers, and the choir didn’t disappoint – now and again the bass got lost in the choir’s hymns of mercy in the first Act, but this was minor.
A most enjoyable piece.