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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Edward Elgar - The Dream of Gerontius (John Barbirolli)


Composer: Edward Elgar
  • CD1: The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38: Part 1
  • CD2: The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38: Part 2

Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano
Richard Lewis, tenor
Kim Borg, bass
Hallé Choir
Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus
Ambrosian Singers
Hallé Orchestra
John Barbirolli, conductor

Dates: 1964
Label: EMI



For myself, this is the recording of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius. From the opening bars of the Prelude, Sir John's deep love of, and devotion to this sublime work is very apparent, with beautiful phrasing, immaculate pacing, judicious use of portamento and rubato, and awesomely thrilling climaxes. Everybody shines, even the much criticised English pronunciation of Kim Borg is easily forgiven for his powerful declamation of '…Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul' which so thrillingly closes Part 1. The chorus is heavenly in 'Praise to the Holiest…' and gleefully devilish in the Demons' Chorus. Janet Baker is, clearly, deeply moved especially in her beautiful closing aria, 'Softly and gently, dearly ransomed soul…' Indeed, Michael Kennedy writing in the booklet remembers "tears running down her cheeks, whispering the Angel's farewell: 'Farewell, but not for ever, brother dear.' " Richard Lewis impresses as probably the most intensely expressive Gerontius on record. His 'Sanctus fortis…' in Part 1 thrills and pierces one to the core. (He is even more intense on the 1955 Sargent recording.) This new incarnation of this much-revered recording boasts a new digital remastering at EMI's Abbey Road Studios. The sound, indeed, is generally very clean and detailed. But EMI, what has happened to the equally wonderful Baker/Barbirolli recording of Elgar's Sea Pictures which was coupled in the last 2-CD reissue of this Gerontius? Rating a disc like this is really superfluous, nevertheless.

-- Ian Lace, MusicWeb International

More reviews:


Edward Elgar (2 June 1857 – 23 February 1934) was an English composer. Among his best-known compositions are orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, concertos for violin and cello, and two symphonies. He also composed choral works, including The Dream of Gerontius, chamber music and songs. Elgar has been described as the first composer to take the gramophone seriously. Between 1914 and 1925, he conducted a series of acoustic recordings of his works.


John Barbirolli (2 December 1899 – 29 July 1970) was a British conductor and cellist. He is remembered above all as conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, which he helped save from dissolution in 1943 and conducted for the rest of his life. Barbirolli was particularly associated with the music of English composers such as Elgar, Delius and Vaughan Williams. His interpretations of other late romantic composers, such as Mahler and Sibelius, as well as of earlier classical composers, including Schubert, are also still admired.


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