Reviews 1996


Elgar: Dream of Gerontius

A Memorable masterpiece
May 18

The Dream of Gerontius, Norwich Cathedral

From the sombre opening chords of the orchestral prelude to the Angel’s final pronouncement, Saturday’s performance was memorable.
Richard Cooke’s masterly direction of the orchestra and 144 strong choir emphasised the intensity and spirituality of Elgar’s massive masterpiece, enhanced by the sensitive singing and enunciation of the three principals.
Of these, the resonant bass-baritone Jeremy White excelled. Tenor William Kendall was consistently expressive, but the Angel, sung affectingly by Janet Shell, had the most tender moments.

Keith Cutler, Eastern Daily Press

Scared to death, but frightened to die
April 27

Dream of Gerontius
Snape Maltings Concert Hall

If Bach’s music is the best intellectual evidence we have for the existence of God, then Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius must rank as one of the most convincing of appeals to our emotions.
To say that John Graham-Hall and Margaret Mcdonald sang this work is to say that Columbus did a bit of sailing. They became the work. Behind them, the mammoth Essex Sinfonia and University of Essex Choir lived and died it.
Conductor Richard Cooke gave a controlled, but passionate reading of the overture, the Sinfonia producing a beautiful burnished sound, especially from the lower strings, as warm and comforting as the arms of the angel that later speeds Gerontius on his way.
It was a shock the to hear Gerontius on his deathbed, played by Graham-Hall as a man scared to death, but frightened to die.
If there are those who find the high Catholicism of Newman’s poetry, with its strong belief in Judgement and Purgatory, difficult to hack it is because they haven’t heard a performance as masterly as this one.
Totally convincing and utterly absorbing, stripped of all schmaltz, Elgar’s music becomes greater than the message.
So it was with the burning precision of the chorus. Their praise to the Holiest became a pure affirmation: an affirmation of what didn’t really matter.
It is rare to find a choral work delivered with such unanimity of purpose in all departments.

Kathryn Dean, East Anglian Daily Times