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Elgar: Dream Of Gerontius, Music Makers / Barbirolli, Et Al

Release Date: 09/18/2007 
Label:  Emi Great Recordings Of The Century Catalog #: 91973   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Kim BorgDame Janet BakerRichard Lewis
Conductor:  Sir John BarbirolliSir Adrian Boult
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ambrosian SingersHallé OrchestraHallé Orchestra Chorus,   ... 
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 15 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ELGAR The Dream of Gerontius. 1 The Music Makers 2 John Barbirolli, cond; 1 Adrian Boult, cond; 2 Janet Baker (mez); 1,2 Richard Lewis (ten); 1 Kim Borg (bs); 1 Sheffield P Ch; 1 Read more class="ARIAL12"> Ambrosian Singers; 1 Hallé O & Ch; 1 London PO & Ch 2 EMI 91973 (2 CDs: 136:26 Text and Translation)

Gerontius has had a blessed recording history (see Bernard Jacobson’s excellent summary, with ample references to earlier reviews, in 22:5), and I suspect that most Elgarians have their mix-and-match ideals: combine Anne Sofie von Otter’s Angel with Peter Pears’s Gerontius, add . . .

As far as real-world performances go, however, Barbirolli’s famous studio account is arguably as good as it gets. No other conductor quite matches his sensitivity to the wide-ranging moods of the score, from the Parsifal ian mournfulness of the Prelude to the ecstatic power of the climaxes, from the sulfurous seething of “Low-born clods of crude earth” to the poignant resignation of the final pages. It’s not simply that he understands the grand outlines—on a measure-to-measure level, too, he has an uncanny control of coloristic details (listen to the chill of the tam-tam before rehearsal 17), of texture, of harmonic weight, and (most important) of the breathing patterns of the music. Certainly, this interpretation is vastly more eventful, on the local level, than Colin Davis’s over-generalized vision (30:3). Eventful—but never fussy. Barbirolli manages to provide that wealth of detail without loss of forward pressure: even at its slowest, this reading has an implacable tread.

Richard Lewis is similarly rich in his expressive arsenal, equally at home in the heroic outbursts and the hoarse moments of exhaustion—and his enunciation is exceptionally clear. Janet Baker is—well, Janet Baker; and although I find von Otter more evocatively angelic, it’s hard to deny Baker’s classic status. The orchestra plays as if possessed—the solidity of the brass is especially imposing; and the choral forces bring tremendous resilience to each line, giving the more complex passages an unusual degree of vigor. The engineering is first-rate, too. Indeed, the only weak spot in the performance is the hollow-toned Kim Borg who swallows his words, strains at the high notes, and, especially as the Angel of the Agony, seems disconnected from the text. But that’s a small defect on a superb recording.

As a bonus, we get Boult’s muscular and unself-conscious reading of The Music Makers —arguably the best recording this lesser score has received, too. (Don’t be confused, though, by EMI’s endless reshufflings: they’ve also recently released this Music Makers as the filler for Boult’s own recording of Gerontius , and it shows up in two other EMI Elgar collections as well.) Even at full price, this release would be a bargain.

FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
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Works on This Recording

The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Kim Borg (Bass), Dame Janet Baker (Mezzo Soprano), Richard Lewis (Tenor)
Conductor:  Sir John Barbirolli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ambrosian Singers,  Hallé Orchestra,  Hallé Orchestra Chorus  ... 
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1899-1900; England 
Date of Recording: 12/1964 
Venue:  Free Trade Hall, Manchester, England 
Length: 88 Minutes 19 Secs. 
Language: English 
The Music Makers, Op. 69 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Dame Janet Baker (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir Adrian Boult
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  London Philharmonic Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1912; England 
Date of Recording: 12/1966 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl 
Length: 38 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Language: English 

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