- The Dream of Gerontius, oratorio for soloists, chorus & orchestra, Op. 38
Edward Elgar disapproved of the term "oratorio" for "The Dream of Gerontius, Op. 38," even though it seems to fit the criteria for the term. In this reading by Daniel Barenboim, the Staatskapelle Berlin, a pair of massed top German choirs, and fine soloists, Elgar's caution seems to be borne out: the work emerges as positively operatic, with impressive results. The soloists are English, the conductor Argentine-Israeli-Palestinian, but this is at heart a German Traum des Gerontius, appropriate in view of the fact that it was the Germans who first appreciated and did justice to this work that has so long been thought of as purely English. Barenboim's conception of the piece is intensely dramatic, with very deliberate, stately slow sections, such as the opening Prelude, heavy in a good way. The soloists take their place in the work naturally: there was disappointment in 2016 when the star tenor Jonas Kaufmann had to cancel and was replaced by Andrew Staples as Gerontius, but the coherence of the performance may have thereby improved. The Staatsopernchor Berlin and RIAS Kammerchor are the real stars of the show: coaxed by Barenboim into chilling mockery in the Demons' chorus and into resplendent beauty in "Praise to the Holiest in the Height." Decca's live sound from the Philharmonie in Berlin is very fine, with superb dynamic range. The end result is a recording that captures both the work's mysticism and its mighty choral festival face. Strongly recommended.