If ever there were a concert of two halves, this was it (not that the seamless purgatorial journey which is Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius should ever have been given with an interval – nor should the Verdi Requiem).
For all Daniele Rosina’s persuasive, authoritative conducting of the Birmingham University Choir and Philharmonic Orchestra, Part One, set at Gerontius’ deathbed, simply failed to catch fire.
Blame for this can largely be laid at the feet of tenor Dwayne Jones, his score-bound Gerontius failing to engage, and unable to decide upon the pronunciation of the crucial name “Jesu”.
But with the entry of Gerontius’ Guardian Angel shepherding his soul in the aftermath to death, everything took off.
Victoria Massey captured in the part all the compassion it exudes, sparking at last some convincing involvement from her charge.
Andrew Ashwin lacked weight in the fearsome Angel of the Agony aria, but had made an impressive entry from the chorus as the priest sending Gerontius on his way into eternity.
On the very spot where the work was premiered 111 years ago, the predominantly youthful choral voices, fabulously clear in diction, and the willing orchestra were meticulously guided by the still-young Rosina, who has crammed a huge amount of experience into his burgeoning conducting career.
His tempi were measured, his sonorities were richly weighted, and I couldn’t help but remember the Gerontius interpretations of his great Anglo-Italian predecessor John Barbirolli.
An early candidate for highlight of the year, this, despite reservations about some of the soloists. Great programme-notes, too.