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Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38; Sea Pictures, Op. 37 / Sarah Connolly, mz; Stuart Skelton, tenor; David Soar, bass. Andrew Davis

Album Summary

>Elgar, Edward : Sea Pictures, Op. 37
>Elgar, Edward : The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38
Performers Conductor Ensembles Composer

Notes & Reviews:

The peerless Elgarian Sir Andrew Davis conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in this new recording of Elgar's choral masterpiece, The Dream of Gerontius, recognized today by many as the greatest choral work by any English composer. Joining conductor and orchestra are star soloists Stuart Skelton, David Soar and Sarah Connolly, who also sings here in the Elgar song cycle Sea Pictures. This recording was accomplished in the run up to a triumphant Gerontius live performance in April, 2014, after which Mr. Skelton was praised as 'the ideal Gerontius tenor' and Mr. Soar was described as 'an implacable, dark-sounding Priest' and Connolly, 'a consummately polished Angel' (The Guardian). Sea Pictures sets a collection of poetry by different authors all on a single theme. Inspired by his love of nature, Elgar's songs explore the emotional resonances of the sea, from serene still waters to a mighty ocean storm. Sir Andrew Davis was awarded in 2014 the prestigious Elgar Society Medal in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the composer's music.

American Record Guide, March/April 2015
Given Elgar's dates - he died in 1934 - it is not surprising that Gerontius recordings from older conductors, mainly Barbirolli and Boult, carry a certain authority. Chandos includes the concert version of the Gerontius prelude, which runs a few seconds longer. The recording is filled out with an excellent performance of Sea Pictures by Sarah Connolly, who is in the line of admirable English mezzos beginning with Clara Butt (who sang the premiere of Sea Pictures) through Ferrier and Baker. Plus, Baker's recording (with Barbirolli) has legendary status. I can't turn my back on Connolly's wonderful singing (and the Baker recording is, after all, 50 years old!) and Chandos's great sonics.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Fairfield Halls, Croydon (04/03/2014-04/05/2014).



Reviews

Yet another excellent version
A poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman was Elgar's inspiration for his choral work "The Dream of Gerontius," which he completed in 1900. This work is an oddity in that it is religious although Newman's poem itself is not biblical. The poem depicts the journey of a pious man's soul from his deathbed to his judgment before God and settling into Purgatory. The work falls firmly outside the established genres of both the oratorio and the cantata. Elgar disliked use of the term "oratorio" to classify it, although it is frequently referred to as one. The piece is widely deemed to be one of Elgar's finest, and some consider it to be his masterpiece. Elgar realized that this work was something very special. He wrote to a friend: "You will find Gerontius far beyond anything I've yet done … I have written my own heart's blood into the score. This is the best of me." It was poorly performed at its premiere, and the Roman Catholic dogma in Newman's poem caused difficulties in connection with later performances in Anglican cathedrals. The text was subsequently revised for some performances. This 2-CD set also contains Elgar's "Sea Pictures," a song cycle for mezzo-soprano and orchestra.
The combination of soloists, chorus, and orchestra on this recording under the expert guidance of conductor Sir Andrew Davis resulted in excellent interpretations of both works. The recording quality sounds first class on my stereo system. I am surprised that Chandos elected to issue yet another recording of "Gerontius," however, because the competition is substantial. Buyers are confronted with questions they only they can answer: who is my favo(u)rite mezzo-soprano? Are other works included on the recording, and if so what are they? This may be the deciding factor for many. Other excellent 2-CD versions of "Gerontius" include those with mezzo-sopranos Felicity Palmer (plus Parry: "Blest Pair of Sirens"; "I was Glad"), Alice Coote (no filler), Anne Sofie von Otter (no filler), Helen Watts (plus Elgar: "The Music Makers" with Dame Janet Baker), Yvonne Minton (plus Delius: "Sea Drift"; Holst: "The Hymn of Jesus"), and Dame Janet Baker (two choices: (a) plus Elgar: "Enigma" Variations; "Grania and Diarmid"; "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4" or (b) no filler).
Since buyers now have so many excellent choices available, I honestly cannot recommend any one version over the others. My recommendation is: unless a version includes performances by your favo(u)rite singers, pick one that offers you fillers that you don’t already have.
Ted Wilks
Submitted on 11/08/14 by Ted Wilks 
An operatic performance
Sir Andrew Davis has performed "The Dream of Gerontius" with these same forces

in live performance. And that may be why this recording sounds so organic.

Sarah Connolly, Stuart Skelton, and David Soar sound like they've all settled

into their roles, and the duets seem sometimes almost conversational.

Davis' vision of Elgar's massive work leans towards the operatic, which makes

this performance sound more like a story with forward motion rather than a

series of devotional tableaux.

Davis elicits a standout performance from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and

especially from the BBC Symphony Chorus. The ensemble sound is impeccable, of

course, but the variety of expression he gets from them makes the chorus active

characters in the drama, rather than background figures.

David Soar has a rich, full bass. He manages give the lofty pronouncements of

his priestly character a sense of humanity.

As a heldentenor, Stuart Skelton brings a brightness and energy to the role of

Gerontius. And it makes sense -- Gerontius isn't actually a dying old man, but

a soul freed from the body of a dying old man. Skelton effectively conveys all

the emotions Gerontius experiences as his soul hastens towards its final

judgement.

Gerontius' guardian angel is sung by mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, who also

brings welcome dramatic impetus to her role. To my ears, her voice sometimes

had an edge to it that seemed at odds with the ethereal music surrounding it,

but that's a minor quibble.

Connolly fares better as the soloist in the orchestral song cycle "Sea

Pictures," also included with this release. That slight brassiness I heard in

her voice is an asset in this work. Connolly sounds as expansive as the

seascapes the music depicts, with an expressive energy that's entirely

appropriate to the text.

Although available for download, I strongly suggest investing in the SACD. The

additional detail I heard in the orchestra, chorus, and especially the soloists

made this a much more powerful listening experience.
Submitted on 12/08/14 by RGraves321 
Amazing heartfelt performance of these two marvelous Elgar works!
This disc consists of two wonderful works from Elgar, “Sea Pictures” which is a 5 movement series of poems set to music (but far more than just tone poems), richly voiced by mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly), and The Dream of Gerontius which comprises the remainder of the first CD and all of the second CD. It is obvious that Sir Andrew Davis cares very much about the subtle nuances of the musical material, and his work leading the always outstanding BBC Symphony Orchestra is truly top-notch here, providing a sensitive and full-range dynamic texture for the soloists and choir to launch from in an all too rare mutually reinforcing partnership with the orchestra.

With respect to “Sea Pictures”, the sweeping feeling of the strings in the “Sea Slumber Song” (track 1) and the “Sabbath Morning at Sea” (track 3) provide a welcome breathing feeling to the musical material, while at the same time drawing the listener in. And “The Swimmer” (track 5) is just gorgeous and Ms. Connolly’s soaring melodic voice is a beautiful fit.

The remainder of the first CD and all of the second CD are devoted to “The Dream of Gerontius”, which is firmly based in Catholic doctrine and begins by introducing the various themes to be used at key moments throughout the piece. The extremely well written liner notes discuss Elgar’s Catholic background and the fact that it was not particularly popular at the time, which provides particularly valuable insight into some of the introductory material of the piece as well as the strength of will and belief reflected in various ways throughout the work. Personally, I found it difficult to focus on the English spoken words in the libretto because the music and musicality of tenor Stuart Skelton and bass David Soar (what an incredible voice this man has!) provided such a rich sonic tapestry. However, the extremely well written liner notes booklet includes the complete libretto, so following along is not only doable but encouraged as it adds depth and meaning to the listening experience. Track 17 on CD 2 (“Take me away”) where Gerontius is cast into purgatory, is particularly gripping given the context of the liner notes. But when all is said and done, this performance is gorgeous, evocative, emotional, gripping, beautiful, and satisfying. I have no doubt that this performance would have been a lifelong remembered treat if experienced in person.

Sir Andrew Davis delivers on this recording (big surprise – when doesn’t he?) and the BBC Symphony Orchestra shows that they deserve their outstanding reputation. The soloists are remarkable, and the combination of all three plus these two magnificent works results in a 2 CD set that is absolutely worth acquiring. This is a five star recording, and I highly and sincerely recommend it. It is glorious!

Submitted on 01/22/15 by KlingonOpera 
"This is the best of me"
The opening orchestral prelude of Gerontius is revelatory from several standpoints. Within its terse duration it contains the elements of nearly all the major thematic material which is to follow. With deceptively uncomplicated means it sets up the fervent tone of a work which could arguably be the composer’s most profound. Its extended melodic and harmonic vocabulary signals a departure for Elgar. It’s a mere 2 years removed from the composer’s breakout masterpiece, Enigma Variations, yet sounds a world apart. The ensuing 84 minutes are a vivid demonstration of the composer’s mastery at wedding music and text. Elgar bristled at the appellation, oratorio, insisting the work was more music drama. Regardless of the nomenclature, it’s a towering achievement completely deserving of its reputation. The score calls for a large instrumental contingent as well as 3 soloists, chorus and organ. It’s impossible to withstand its allure regardless of how one perceives its spiritual underpinning. Such is the power of Elgar’s writing. What of this new version? It’s beautifully performed by the soloists, chorus and orchestra. Sir Andrew’s firm grasp of the music’s complex mystical arc is evident throughout. The field is crowded with fine versions including one conducted by the sorely missed Richard Hickox also on Chandos. Nonetheless, this new entry easily takes its place among the top available recordings. The Sea Pictures makes an excellent coupling and is nicely sung by the superb Sarah Connolly in this, her second traversal. The Chandos engineering is luminous, detailed and three dimensional especially in the Super Audio format. Soloists, chorus and orchestra are realistically arrayed. Lavish packaging and superb liner notes complete the package, solidifying its irresistability even to those already in possession of a rival set.
Submitted on 01/30/15 by Allen Cohen 
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Works Details

>Elgar, Edward : Sea Pictures, Op. 37
  • Conductor: Andrew Davis
  • Ensemble: BBC Symphony Orchestra
  • Notes: Fairfield Halls, Croydon (04/03/2014-04/05/2014)
  • Running Time: 21 min. 14 sec.
  • Period Time: Post Romantic
  • Form: Vocal
  • Written: 1897-1899

>Elgar, Edward : The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38
  • Performers: Sarah Connolly; Stuart Skelton (Tenor); David Soar (Bass)
  • Conductor: Andrew Davis
  • Notes: Fairfield Halls, Croydon (04/03/2014-04/05/2014)
  • Running Time: 71 min. sec.
  • Period Time: Post Romantic
  • Form: Cantata/Oratorio
  • Written: 1900