life, music

Thy Night of Trial

Worcester Cathedral's Rose Window

Worcester Cathedral's Rose Window

On Saturday evening we attended a performance of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius at Worcester Cathedral. The City of Birmingham Choir, of which Anna’s dad is a long-serving member, performed the piece in co-operation with the Chameleon Arts Orchestra, and a very fine evening they managed to put on, too. Obviously there’s the stardust provided by using the Rose Window as a backdrop, and undoubtedly the venue contributed a great deal to the atmosphere of the evening – though not the warmest June evening we’ll ever spend, the Cathedral was undoubtedly a fitting setting for a story of (albeit Catholic, not Anglican) faith and salvation.

The music was by no means second fiddle, however, and it might strike the reader as favouritism if we write that the choir was the best thing about the night – but they honestly were. The orchestra, particularly in Part I’s prelude and the climaxes of Part II, were supple and expressive, whilst the soloists – whose names we didn’t catch, but of whom Gerontius was by far the most accomplished – filled their (in the case of the Angel, last-minute) roles satisfactorily. But the choir, especially in the second part when faced with the busy fugue of the demons, and the sacral ecstasy of the Choir of Angelicals, rose to a great unity of passion. Where the acoustics of the Cathedral denied the sound real precision, it complemented with warmth the playful respect with which the choir treated the whole affair.

Gerontius is seen by some as Elgar’s masterwork, and in his opening remarks the conductor reflected on the pleasure of presenting it in one of the composer’s favourite buildings. His reputation waxes and wanes, but Gerontius tends to remain in repertoire: it is an accessible, but deeply rewarding piece, and we really enjoyed seeing it performed in so special a space. The City of Birmingham Choir next perform in November, at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony and Delius’s Sea Drift are on the programme.

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