Prom 59: The Dream of Gerontius review – outstanding Clayton helps create a season highlight

Royal Albert Hall, London
Edward Gardner conducted the London Philharmonic and the combined choirs of the LPO and Hallé to give a perfectly judged performance of Elgar’s great choral work

Elgar’s great choral work, perhaps the finest composed in Britain since Handel, has now had four performances at the Proms this century, each with a different conductor and trio of soloists. The latest, in a crammed Albert Hall, was given by the London Philharmonic conducted by Edward Gardner, with Allan Clayton, Jamie Barton and James Platt as the soloists and the combined choirs of the Hallé and the London Philharmonic.

The concert always promised to be one of the highlights of the current season, and Gardner’s account, launched with a measured treatment of the prelude, and reserving its moments of greatest power for the set pieces of the second part, generally did not disappoint. The choral sound from in excess of 250 voices was majestic, even if with that number of singers the trickier corners of the Demons’ Chorus were not ideally nimble; the hush of the final pages was beautifully controlled and, like the rest of the performance, was never pushed or overplayed by Gardner.

Jamie Barton
Surprisingly underpowered: Jamie Barton. Photograph: Chris Christodoulou

Matters of balance between voices and a suitably rich orchestral sound were generally not problematic, with the exception of Barton’s Angel, who sounded surprisingly underpowered and undistinguished. Her diction was indistinct, her high notes effortful – the Alleluia just before Gerontius goes to his judgment was a hit-and-hope affair – and her delivery of the Farewell as detached and chilly as her description of Saint Francis’s stigmata had been matter of fact.

The other soloists were first rate. Platt’s contribution as the priest and the Angel of the Agony were as sonorous and implacable as anyone could want, but it was inevitably Clayton’s outstanding performance that dominated things. The role of Gerontius demands a singer somewhere between a lyric tenor and a heroic operatic voice, and Clayton fits that exactly, as impressive in the dying moments of part one as in the dialogues with the Angel in the second and his final impassioned “Take me away”, after Gardner’s superbly paced buildup. It was a performance suggesting that Clayton is now the definitive interpreter of the role in British music today.

• Available on BBC Sounds until 10 October. The Proms continue until 10 September.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Prom 39: BBCSO/Oramo review – a soaring tale of three cities … and a blackbird
Oramo’s Prom of English music included the UK premiere of Turnage’s Time Flies; with an encore of Paul McCartney’s Blackbird from tubist Constantin Hartwig

Tim Ashley

16, Aug, 2022 @11:18 AM

Article image
LPO/Gardner review – magical outing for Tippett’s ‘unplayable’ piano concerto
Coleridge-Taylor’s stately, long-lost Solemn Prelude and a crisp, exploratory interpretation of Elgar’s first symphony completed a trio of English compositions

Martin Kettle

27, Jan, 2023 @2:13 PM

The Dream of Gerontius – review
Soloist Paul Groves hit the bullseye in as good a live account of Elgar's work as any in years, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

28, Mar, 2011 @9:00 PM

Article image
Elgar: Symphony No 1; Introduction and Allegro CD review – notable for its clarity

Andrew Clements

13, Apr, 2017 @2:00 PM

Article image
Prom 9: BBCNOW/Matiakh review – Beamish and Finch create a buzz
French conductor Ariane Matiakh brought precision and colour to a programme of three illustrative works, including the premiere of Sally Beamish’s Hive, a harp concerto built around the life cycle of the honeybee

Andrew Clements

22, Jul, 2022 @11:48 AM

Article image
The Dream of Gerontius review – ENO takes Elgar's soul on a dramatic journey
Simone Young set a dynamic framework for this staged interpretation, while Gwyn Hughes Jones sang the dying man with emotional conviction, backed by incisive soloists and chorus

Martin Kettle

02, Jul, 2017 @12:29 PM

Article image
The week in classical: The Dream of Gerontius, Bach’s Mass in B minor and Nathan Laube at the Proms
Jamie Barton and Allan Clayton lead a dream Gerontius in a week of choral epics at the Proms. Elsewhere, deep listening and silence…

Fiona Maddocks

03, Sep, 2022 @11:30 AM

Article image
Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius; Symphony No 1 – review
The striking thing about this welcome Antwerp-sourced version of Elgar's choral work is how English it seems, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

05, Dec, 2013 @10:45 PM

CD: Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius

Elgar: The Dream

Andrew Clements

07, Nov, 2008 @12:01 AM

Article image
BBCSO/Davis: The Dream of Gerontius review – 'Splendour and clarity'
Sir Andrew Davis, the BBC Symphony and its chorus take Elgar's masterwork to soulful heights of emotion, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

08, Apr, 2014 @2:21 PM