Chandos Records CHAN 241-46
Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius; Parry: Blest Pair of Sirens; Parry: I was glad – Felicity Palmer, Arthur Davies, Gwynne Howell, Roderick Elms (organ), London Symphony Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Richard Hickox
In The Dream of Gerontius, Elgar succeeded in writing a religious choral work that fell firmly outside the established genres of either the oratorio or the cantata, and unusually the text itself was not biblical either. Large sections of Cardinal Newman’s poem about the journey of a man’s soul to judgement and Purgatory are simply, as the score states, ‘set to music’ by Elgar. The composer himself knew that in this work he had created something very special indeed. On the manuscript score, he quoted Ruskin: ‘This is the best of me… this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.’ It was written ‘from my insidest inside’, he confided to a friend, and to another he wrote that ‘you will find Gerontius far beyond anything I’ve yet done… I have written my own heart’s blood into the score’.
When it was first released, Gramophone wrote of Richard Hickox’s version of Gerontius: ‘Captured in sound of striking range and focus, Hickox’s bright-eyed conception evinces an almost operatic fervour.’ The Observer called it ‘a masterpiece’, continuing: ‘Arthur Davies is an exceptionally clear, strong and forthright Gerontius, Gwynne Howell a noble angel [of the agony], while Felicity Palmer is a most unusual icily direct angel.’
On this disc we also have two works by Sir Charles Hubert H. Parry. Firstly, Blest Pair of Sirens, for which both Elgar and Vaughan Williams had the highest regard. This setting of words from Milton’s ode At a Solemn Musick was composed for the Bach Choir in 1887, which Stanford conducted, and it has remained a firm favourite with choirs ever since. Parry composed the anthem I was glad for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, and it has also been performed at the three subsequent coronations (1911, 1937, and 1953) as the sovereign enters Westminster Abbey.