- The Dream of Gerontius, oratorio for soloists, chorus & orchestra, Op. 38 - Edward Elgar - Kim Borg - Ambrosian Singers - Janet Baker - John Barbirolli - Eric Chadwick - Hallé Choir - Hallé - Richard Lewis - John McCarthy - John Cardinal Newman - Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus - J.M.W. Turner - Martin Milner
From the anguished intensity of the orchestral prelude alone, it's clear why this is considered the great recording of Elgar's oratorio The Dream of Gerontius. There's not a trace of pomp and circumstance anywhere in Sir John Barbirolli's impassioned performance. Tenor Richard Lewis is eloquently poignant as the dying Gerontius. Although he was suffering from a cold during the recording sessions, the occasional hint of vocal strain only enhances the authenticity of his portrayal. Bass Kim Borg renders the English text with a heavy Finnish accent, but his ink-black voice is ideal. Dame Janet Baker's interpretation of the Angel has been widely acclaimed, and rightly so. Her singing of the final benediction ("Softly and Gently") is utterly sublime; no one before or since has offered such deep compassion and sweet consolation. From start to finish, however, this is Barbirolli's show. Benjamin Britten may find comparable intensity in his superb recording, and Malcolm Sargent's vigorous rendition boasts Heddle Nash's unsurpassed Gerontius, but neither conductor captures both the spiritual gravity and dramatic sweep of this music as effectively as Barbirolli does. Those who think of English oratorios as high-collar, stiff-upper-lip affairs, owe it to themselves to experience the profound emotional richness of Elgar's score -- and this legendary recording is its most persuasive advocate.