Crouch End Festival Chorus, Dream of Gerontius, Queen Elizabeth Hall
PUBLISHED: 16:51 11 February 2019
Elgar’s sombre and intense meditation on the journey of a soul from death to the afterlife is given a beautiful and sinister rendition
I’ve long wondered how the Chorus consistently produces such extraordinary performances.
Happily on Sunday, the programme notes lifted the veil on the mystery.
Dear Singers is a note written by conductor David Temple to equip the chorus with a deeper understanding and background to the pieces they perform.
In his note for The Dream of Gerontius he writes about the death of the protagonist: “The dying man can only wheeze in ¾ time ... but it is NOT a regular beat, so the third beat, the breathing in, is longer and more laboured.”
There is attention to detail and then there is David Temple. And it works.
Elgar took the text for the work from a poem by Catholic convert John Henry Newman. It tells the journey of the soul of a pious everyman from the instant of death via the transition to the afterlife, his judgement before God and finally settling into Purgatory.
The intensity of the piece was established by the sombre and intense Prelude delivered by the superb London Mozart Players.
We then heard from Robert Murray’s Gerontius (Latin for old man). He is reconciled to death, perhaps exhilarated at meeting his maker in whom, literally, he has placed his faith.
Gerontius, echoing the words of the crucified Christ (into thy hands, O Lord) dies and receives the immensely powerful valediction from The Priest (the magnificent Ashley Riches).
At the start of Part II, there is some wonderful speculation about the afterlife, space and the passage of time. He is gathered by his Angel (wonderfully given by Kitty Whately) and they prepare for judgement.
The choir, as Demons were simply extraordinary: sinister, menacing, terrifying.
At primary school we used to sing a simple little hymn that started “Praise to the Holiest in the height.”
In its longer form it is a central piece of the Dream and, as the Choir of Angelicals, the choir offered a triumphant, powerful and beautiful performance of this statement of faith. A fabulous evening.