Britten Sinfonia Orchestra Photo copyright Harry Rankin
Elgar’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ in Ely Cathedral on Saturday was magnificent.
Under the baton of Mark Williams, choirs from Jesus, Clare, Gonville and Caius, and Selwyn colleges, Cambridge University Chamber Choir, choristers of Jesus College and Girls’ Choirs of St. Catharine’s College and Ely Cathedral and Britten Sinfonia gave a most moving performance.
Every nuance of Elgar’s style was explored. The anguish and wide-ranging emotions of a dying man’s soul were beautifully and effectively revealed, the choirs harmonizing with a full rich tone, creating well-balanced, complex textures in the more intense sections. The singers filled the cathedral with demonic fire, strong Parry-like angelic praise, or gentle serenity as the mood of the work changed.
Alison Cook Photo copyright Paul Foster-Williams
The soloists: Ben Johnson (tenor), Allison Cook (mezzo soprano) and Duncan Ross (bass) were splendid, colouring vital words with drama and characterizing their different roles wonderfully. The single word ‘Alleulia’ was exquisitely expressed by Allison as the Angel, a typical example of her expertise that was equally matched by that of Ben and Duncan.
Ben gave an especially credible sonorous performance.
Britten Sinfonia Orchestra Photo copyright Thomas Skovsende
Britten Sinfonia is an excellent orchestra, all sections responding skilfully to create a wonderful effect, moving through a wide range of expressions from dramatic urgency and intensity, poignancy, and despair to sheer joy and serenity. Elgar’s leitmotifs, such as ‘judgement’, ‘fear’, ‘prayer’, ‘sleep’, and ‘miserere’ were seamlessly interwoven in a meaningful way throughout the work from the beginning.
It was no wonder the whole performance had the packed cathedral transfixed.