The Dream of Gerontius
EFC Visit to Bad Homburg, Exeter's German Twin Town: Thursday 22 November to Monday 26 November. Whilst there we gave two joint performances with the BachChor of the Erloeserkirche in Bad Homburg of Elgar's "The Dream of Gerontius"
Man in the Presence of Death
Source: Michael Jacob, Taunus-Zeitung, 26 November 2007
Translated by Roger Cockrell
"On Commemoration Sunday Susanne Rohn, the Kantorin of the Church of the Saviour, presented us withan impressive, exhilarating and moving work that was totally new to the majority of the audience: 'The Dream of Gerontius', by Edward Elgar, England's most significant romantic composer. Unsurprisingly, therefore, it was a work that contained numerous spine-tingling emotional moments, and that even brought tears to people's eyes.
As a work it was absolutely fitting for the final festival in the church calendar, commemorating those who have died, for it shows Gerontius departing this life and being accepted into heaven. With the figure of Gerontius Elgar had no particular person in mind, but simply someone 'such as you or I'. In ancient times the gerontes were old people, who were highly respected, and so the name Gerontius stands for people who find themselves confronted by death. At first the dying person struggles and fights against death, asking to be spared, but then he gives in to his fate: 'Thy servant deliver, for once and for ever.'
In the Oratorio's second part the path to heaven is depicted in a romantically transfigured way. Gerontius feels that he is asleep and, as such, that he is someone who can enter into God's presence with his soul refreshed. First there appears an angel who prepares him for his next steps along the path. Then, preceded by shrill sounds, the demons appear, mocking the virtuous with derisive laughter. Finally the heavenly spirits appear, praising God and bearing Gerontius's soul heavenwards.
Elgar's music is both grippingly dramatic and sweetly lyrical. Written at the end of the nineteenth century, marking the high point of romanticism in music, this is the work of a composer able to exploit the full register of tone and expressive colouring, bringing even the most ethereal moments to life. The sound of bells, the fear of death, the absolute stillness as Gerontius floats through time and space ― everything is represented in musical terms.
Choir and orchestra were closely packed together in the church, and full justice was done to Elgar's wish, during the Alleluia section, that: 'For one moment must every instrument exert its fullest force.' The Church's Bach Choir and the Exeter Festival Chorus, divided in two different parts, were in top form. The choir as a whole enthralled the audience with their lyrical style, their clear attention to the music's dynamics, and their careful articulation of the words. The bravura playing of the enhanced brass and strings of the Frankfurt Orchestra, together with the organist, Gregor Knop, brilliantly provided the finishing touches that set up the three soloists for a fascinating interpretation: the radiant and responsive tenor of Peter Wedd, in the gigantic role of Gerontius; the deep, velvety mezzo-soprano of Dagmar Linde, as the angel; and the resonant bass of Markus Flaig."
A Grand Mysterious Harmony
Source: Robin Alder, November 2007
"The Erlöserkirche in Bad Homburg, foursquare neo-Romanesque basilica on the outside and Turkish mosaic on the inside, was the setting for an anniversary performance of “THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS” uniting its own Bach choir with that of its twin the Exeter Festival Chorus. A complement of 120 singers supported by a reduced orchestra were helped by a relatively clear acoustic and it was obvious from the shaped warm sound with which the Prelude unfolded that Susanne Rohn had a solid grip on her forces, knowing precisely what she wanted to bring out. There was a Brahms feel as the pounding brass chords gave way to the entry of the Soul, Peter Wedd, starting carefully but expanding with firm bright tone and deftly alternating between lyrical and declamatory.
The first entry of the semi-chorus placed in the balcony was a revelation, clear responsive part-work with nevertheless an awareness of the spirituality of the text. The conductor drove the Sanctus section with inspiring urgency, occasionally swamping the voices but never failing to point the cadences of this extraordinarily beautiful passage. We were all fortunate in the precision and clarity of the organ’s contribution as Markus Flaig’s Priest delivered an admonitory “Go forth…” with impeccable diction.
Apart from one or two slithers in the opening adagio for strings, Part II introduced Dagmar Linde as the Angel, in rich and vibrant tone, dramatising sensitively the duet with the Soul, turning meaningfully towards him then away, her middle register only momentarily masked by the accompaniment. The choirs demonstrated the thoroughness of their preparation in their crisp and coherent incarnation as Daemons – the short As in the “Ha! Ha!”s showed the English contingent thoroughly at home in Germany. The crucial “Praise to the Holiest “ sequence restored the Angels vividly responding with fearless high notes and noticeably bobbing with enthusiasm. Markus Flaig gave effective colouring to the Angel of the Agony against the lushness of the orchestration in the closing pages.
This was a reverent, convincing, well-prepared performance – Elgar’s friend Alfred Jaeger said that Gerontius was a work which needed to be heard more than once. On this hearing who could fail to agree?"