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YPC's Inspired performance of Elgar's best

Inspired performance lives up to choir’s excellent reputation

The Dream of Gerontius Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir Saturday April 12. 2014

The Dream of Gerontius is the title of a lengthy poem written in 1865 by that great Victorian churchman, John Henry Newman, who is now set on a path to sainthood. Much of it was set to music by Sir Edward Elgar in 1900.

Between those dates, the Diocese of Wakefield was formed and so this concert at Wakefield Cathedral, with its heavenly choruses and affirmations of faith, was a fitting farewell to the diocese on the eve of its own final service.

It tells the story of an elderly man (which is all Gerontius means) facing death and entering eternity. It explains the Catholic teaching on purgatory in a beautiful and spiritual way, although this subject was enough to have the work banned in some churches during its early and less enlightened years.

Whether you agree or not, Elgar’s setting stands alone as a masterpiece – “this is the best of me” he wrote in its introduction, and it surely was.

There have been many performances and recordings in the past 50 years or so for choirs to measure up to. Here, the Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir under the confident baton of its conductor Andrew Padmore, was inspired by the

music to give a performance that matched the choir’s reputation.

They were accompanied by the Amici Ensemble and the cathedral’s director of music, Thomas Moore, on organ.

The work requires three soloists: tenor Robert Johnston gave a bravura performance as Gerontius, filling the cathedral; John Cunningham’s bass baritone matched well the two roles of the Priest and the Angel of the Agony; Gaynor Keeble was a soaring mezzo-soprano as the Angel, confidently and beautifully guiding Gerontius through his judgement to that final, haunting Angel’s Farewell.

The choir captured well the contrasting moods and dynamics of Elgar’s setting, with balanced chorus and semi chorus moving easily and fluently from strident demons to sweet angelicals.

There will be another change of mood for the next YPC concert –Magical Mozart on Midsummer’s Day – on June 21: judging by this performance it will be another musical treat.

Nick Shields

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