ELGAR Dream of Gerontius / Barenboim 4831585

Staples' tone is clear and very focussed . . . He has sufficient heft for the big moments such as "Sanctus fortis" and "Take me away" but he also shows great finesse in the passages that call for a lighter touch, such as the dialogue with the Angel in Part II . . . I admired Staples' great accuracy. Not only is he most attentive to Elgar's copious dynamic markings but he's also pretty scrupulous about note values, not least in sustaining notes to their full value at the ends of phrases. It sounds like a small point but many singers don't always do that. His is a reading of great intelligence: he clearly understands the text and he enunciates it with great clarity . . . Barenboim introduces a good deal of rubato to enhance the expressive singing of his soloist. I admire the attention to matters of dynamic detail that Andrew Staples brings . . . Overall I think his performance represents a considerable achievement and I'm very glad that it's been preserved on disc . . . Miss Wyn-Rogers brings great maturity and sensitivity to her interpretation. The sound of the voice itself gives great pleasure . . . she brings great feeling and many subtle nuances to the music . . . The celebrated Farewell is very moving . . . I've enjoyed hearing her sing many times both live and on disc but I don't think I've heard her do anything better than this committed and eloquent performance . . . The playing of the Staatskapelle Berlin impressed me greatly on the night. Now that I have the chance to savour it on CD my admiration is even greater. The corporate sound is richly hued and very satisfying to hear. The orchestra is also supple and flexible, qualities that are vital in Elgar. And when necessary they can turn on the power too . . . the orchestral playing is as fine as I can recall hearing in a recording of "Gerontius" . . . Barenboim seems to me to convey extremely well the "spirit" of the music . . . "The Dream of Gerontius" has been lucky on disc and there are already a number of notable recordings. This deeply considered and superbly performed account is worthy to rank with the finest.

. . . a superlatively-engineered account of "The Dream of Gerontius" . . . sumptuous but sinewy playing of Staatskapelle Berlin, a source of strength throughout the performance . . . among Barenboim's finest outings as a conductor . . . the Prelude's opening is meticulously observed, and the orchestra's wind playing here and throughout the performance is superb . . . Barenboim and the orchestra attain -- and maintain -- aural balances in which details of Elgar's orchestrations, particularly his inspired writing for the harp, are consistently audible within appropriate perspectives . . . Barenboim's insightful handling of musical textures is not surprising, but there is much about his leadership of this "Dream of Gerontius" that profoundly surprises and gratifies . . . the Staatsopernchor and RIAS Kammerchor bring to this performance of "Dream of Gerontius" irreproachable musicality, immaculate intonation, excellent diction, and complete comfort with Elgar's demanding choral writing . . . Thomas Hampson wields the vocal and histrionic gravitas that the music needs without pushing the voice . . . this is among Hampson's best recorded performances. An exceptionally persuasive rendering . . . Wyn-Rogers's singing in this "Dream of Gerontius" is never more beautiful than in "Softly and gently, dearly ransom'd soul", her timbre glimmering . . . Staples's interpretation on these discs arises from as complete a mastery of the rôle's diverse challenges as any singer has exhibited . . . [Barenboim's "The Dream of Gerontius"] comes marvelously to fruition.

The hero of this splendid "Dream Of Gerontius" is the young British tenor Andrew Staples . . . [he] tackles the taxing part of the dying Gerontius with a remarkable range of expression and beauty of tone. Daniel Barenboim and his Berlin orchestra and chorus give Elgar's Wagnerian masterpiece the full Parsifal treatment . . . Gerontius was a success in Germany before it became one in Britain. And the way these German musicians take to it is a wonder to behold. The veteran American baritone Thomas Hampson is arguably the best High Priest on disc, bringing real passion and heft to the end of Part 1, "Go Forth Upon Thy Journey, Christian Soul".

The best parts of this recording are exactly those passages when this superb orchestra gives the impression of floating into celestial regions -- in the sublimely played preludes . . . or in the increasingly sumptuous washes of orchestral power leading up to "Praise to the Holiest" . . . there's a gripping integrity and intensity to Barenboim's approach . . . [Barenboim's "Gerontius" will take its place] on my shelf marked "essential deathbed listening".

The drama comes from Hampson's contributions as the Priest and the Angel of the Agony, which do have a real sense of theatricality . . . Thrilling singing from the combined forces of the Berlin Radio Chamber Choir and Berlin Staatsoper chorus shows the benefit of having a professional chorus in this taxing work, while the rich, nutty sound of the Staatskapelle strings and sheer majesty of its brass are as revelatory here as they have been in Elgar's orchestral music.

. . . the best-sounding "Gerontius" on record. No British string section has ever played the work with such sweet serenity. No British winds ever breathed with such deep assurance . . . the Berlin musicians and chorus singers feel this most English of works in their fingers and bones. There is something akin to love in their playing . . . [Barenboim's] approach to the oratorio is broadsided, utterly secure, without shocks or fancy gestures . . . the cohesion of soloists, orchestra and chorus is admirable . . . I don't think I've enjoyed a "Gerontius" this much before.

The sound he gets from the orchestra, and from the chorus, has a richness and depth that make this work sound truly Catholic -- no Protestant squeamishness here about the sensuous dimension to all this mysticism. And the recording captures and enhances that marvelously. When Catherine Wyn-Rogers's Angel enters she seems utterly at one with Barenboim's vision -- that really is the word.

It's such a joy to hear "The Dream Of Gerontius" taken seriously by the Berlin Staatskapelle and its excellent chorus.

. . . [la distribution est] magnifiquement servi par le choeur et par l'orchestre . . . on notera la qualité des somptueux RIAS Kammerchor et Staatsopernchor de Berlin. La Staatskapelle Berlin brille tout particulièrement par l'éclat de ses cuivres, et apporte à la partition d'Elgar toute la rutilance que seul peut lui donner un orchestre allemand. On apprécie cependant chez Barenboim le caractère légèrement détaché de sa direction . . . Pour la beauté et la sobriété de la musique d'Elgar, on se tournera sans hésitation vers cette nouvelle version, qui sans doute sera une révélation pour les auditeurs non familiers de la musique d'Elgar.

. . . Daniel Barenboim anime une interprétation magnifique, sobre, vaste et fouillée, supérieurement architecturée et aérée. Il différencie chaque épisode, sans préjudice pour le grand arc unitaire . . . Staples se révèle étonnant d'intelligence et de musicalité, et Thomas Hampson fait montre d'un modelé, d'un métal admirables dans ses deux rôles . . . La prise de son qui place les choeurs et l'orchestre dans un espace très réaliste est un atout supplémentaire pour cette réalisation . . .

. . . [Barenboim] poursuit son étonnante exploration de l'orchestre elgarien, sachant gommer toute l'épaisseur et le grandiose pompeux d'un style souvent grandiloquent . . . Andrew Staples (Gerontius) trouve une issue lumineuse et apaisée après des tourments vertigineux, parfois bavards mais dont le chef restitue l'éclat parsifalien.