Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Dream of Gerontius.
The Music Makers
John Barbirolli, cond;
Adrian Boult, cond;
Janet Baker (mez);
Richard Lewis (ten);
Kim Borg (bs);
Sheffield P Ch;
class="ARIAL12"> Ambrosian Singers;
Hallé O & Ch;
London PO & Ch
EMI 91973 (2 CDs: 136:26
Text and Translation)
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
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
lesser score has received, too. (Don’t be confused, though, by EMI’s endless reshufflings: they’ve also recently released this
as the filler for Boult’s own recording of
, 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
Works on This Recording
The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38 by Sir Edward Elgar
Kim Borg (Bass),
Dame Janet Baker (Mezzo Soprano),
Richard Lewis (Tenor)
Sir John Barbirolli
Hallé Orchestra Chorus
Written: 1899-1900; England
Date of Recording: 12/1964
Venue: Free Trade Hall, Manchester, England
Length: 88 Minutes 19 Secs.
The Music Makers, Op. 69 by Sir Edward Elgar
Dame Janet Baker (Mezzo Soprano)
Sir Adrian Boult
London Philharmonic Orchestra,
London Philharmonic Choir
Written: 1912; England
Date of Recording: 12/1966
Venue: EMI Abbey Road Studio no 1, London, Engl
Length: 38 Minutes 0 Secs.
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