Elgar: Dream of Gerontius, Enigma Variations

Elgar: Dream of Gerontius, Enigma Variations

by Simon Rattle



For EMI, the label that had already made a series of ever more opulent and magnificent recordings of Elgar's oratorio "The Dream of Gerontius," the temptation to try again in 1986 must have been irresistible. Mezzo-soprano Janet Baker, who starred in Barbirolli's 1964 recording, was still professionally active in 1986, and so were fellow veterans baritone John Shirley-Quirk and tenor John Mitchinson. Conductor Simon Rattle, whose youthful audacity and charisma were said to rival Leonard Bernstein, was then the great hope of the English. Add to that the availability of new digital technology, which promised an even more opulent and magnificent recording, and the stage was set. It didn't altogether work out. While one hears hints of their prior glory, the soloists were simply too old to sustain Elgar's heroic melodies. Baker sounds hooty, Shirley-Quirk unsteady, and Mitchinson weary. Rattle's charisma gets him through the tough spots like the "Demon's Chorus," but his audacity is missing here, and instead of ruthless iconoclasm, there's sanctimonious tradition. Imagine the final scene from "Parsifal" cross cut with bits from the second part of Mahler's "Eighth" performed with complete sincerity but no excitement and you have an idea of what to expect. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus perform admirably in music that's almost but not quite over their collective heads. And the digital technology does not yield opulence or magnificence, but merely a bigger signal with a wider dynamic range. Before and after "The Dream of Gerontius," EMI has included Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony's 1993 recordings of Elgar's "Enigma Variations" and incidental music from "Grania and Diarmid." And at the end of the second disc, EMI tacks on Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker's 2002 recording of Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4." Rattle's rough and ready "Enigma" comes off better than his dismal incidental music, but with the brawny Berlin musicians parading in full regalia, Rattle leads a Pomp and Circumstance that will rattle the windows and shake the walls.

Product Details

Release Date: 10/23/2007
Label: Emi Classics
UPC: 5099950006120
catalogNumber: 00061


  1. Enigma Variations, for orchestra, Op. 36
  2. The Dream of Gerontius, oratorio for soloists, chorus & orchestra, Op. 38
  3. Grania and Diarmid, incidental music, Op. 42: 1. Incidental Music
  4. Grania and Diarmid, incidental music, Op. 42: 2. Funeral March
  5. Pomp and Circumstance March No.4, for orchestra in G major, Op. 39/4

Album Credits

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews