Emmanuel United Reformed ChurchEly Cathedral
Held Saturday Jan 28th 2012
Benjamin Britten wrote the cantata Saint Nicolas in 1948 and it was his first professional work intended primarily for performance by amateur musicians. Now it is frequently performed by youth and amateur ensembles. The libretto, written by Eric Crozier after researching the legendary life of St Nicolas, Bishop of Myra, exaggerates the legends and glory accumulated over the centuries around Nicolas's story. Britten's music enhances the drama of Crozier's text using striking contrasts in instrumentation, vocal style, and musical textures. Written between 1906-1911, Five Mystical Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams sets to music four poems by George Herbert.
Elgar Dream of Gerontius
Saturday March 31st 2012
A joint concert with the Ely Choral Society.
This is a review by Dr Rosemary Westwell of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ by Elgar performed by Ely Choral Society, Cambridgeshire Choral Society, Ely Consort and the Ely Festival Orchestra in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 31st March 2012.
"Elgar’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ performed by Ely Choral Society, Cambridgeshire Choral Society, and Ely Consort and the Ely Festival Orchestra in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 31st March 2012 was an unforgettable, moving and uplifting experience.
Under the baton of Andrew Parnell, these fine musicians captured the essence of Elgar’s genius. With carefully shaped and measured precision, the messages of the text were abundantly clear. Every essence of the journey of the soul of Gerontius and its final release in death was made important and meaningful by these impressive musicians. The audience felt a sense of awe and reverence —most fitting in the inspiring environment of Ely Cathedral.
The combined choir excelled. With a full, wholesome sound, these singers sang with informed assurance, no matter what this momentous score demanded. Their effects ranged from the solemn prayers of the Assistants and the harsh brutality of the Demons to the ethereal beauty of the Choir of Angelicals. Even in the most interwoven of textures, no opportunity was lost to savour the expressive magnitude, heightened tensions, and profundity.
The orchestra was indeed on equal terms with the singers and these highly skilled instrumentalists balanced perfectly to help create this wonderful, emotional experience that captured the painful anguish of Gerontius’s experiences exactly. In the opening bars it became immediately apparent that we were about to experience something momentous. With both orchestra and choir every utterance was exact but evocative. Tonal richness, effective timing and cohesive, wide-ranging expression were clearly the order of the day. Jonathan Lilley’s organ playing was also an essential contributor. There was a marked hush at the end of the sections. The listeners had been deeply affected.
The soloists were some of the finest I have heard in Ely Cathedral. Justin Lavender (tenor) was a highly charged Gerontius, his superb voice permeating the words and music with phenomenal emotional intensity. Jeremy White (bass) filled the Cathedral with his powerful voice. The first notes he sang as the Priest revealed him to be a man worthy of the role - one who could fill the Cathedral with astounding tonal control, power and authority. Deborah Miles-Johnson (mezzo-soprano) sang superbly, adding warmth and affection to Elgar’s uplifting music.
This was a most successful evening. There was no doubt why the Cathedral was packed."
Elgar disapproved of the term "oratorio" being applied to this work, although it was regularly referred to as an oratorio during his life. The Dream of Gerontius is widely regarded as Elgar's masterpiece and finest choral work.