80th Anniversary Concert
To celebrate our 80th Anniversary, we performed Elgar's Dream of Gerontius alongside Bishop's Stortford Choral Society, who were also celebrating their 80th anniversary.
This concert was held at Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden on 9th April 2022.
Bass Baritone: Edward Grint
Orchestra: Forest Philharmonic
Conductor: Richard Brain
Review of the event
To jointly celebrate their 80th anniversaries Bishop’s Stortford and Barnet Choral Societies joined forces to present Elgar’s towering masterpiece, The Dream of Gerontius, at Saffron Hall on Saturday night.
It was an immense pleasure to be seated in a hall that was nearly full to capacity and watch a performance by close on 200 people after being unable to do so for so long. Clearly the performers felt the same joy with a real sense of anticipation waiting for the concert to begin.
The two choirs share a Musical Director in Richard Brain, here conducting the Forest Philharmonic Orchestra. In the orchestral Prelude they immediately conjured up a characterful sound world, from the wistful, slightly melancholic tones of viola and lower woodwind and the heavenly colours of divisi strings right through to the sonorous resonance of full brass, all clearly delineated in the wonderful acoustic of the hall.
Peter Auty (a very late replacement for an ailing Daniel Norman) gave a heartfelt rendition of the Soul (Gerontius) approaching death, his crystal clear diction allowing us always to follow the narrative. Joined by the choirs, supporting him in prayer, there was a tremendous warmth to the sound and the contrapuntal textures throughout were very well managed. Edward Grint, as the Priest, showed a very rich bass-baritone in his declaration “Proficiscere, anima Christiana” (Go forth upon thy journey, Christian Soul) later joined again by the choirs in the uplifting chorus to end the first half – Elgar at his most noble and passionate, music of a rare and grandiose beauty.
In Part two Gerontius continues on his journey, accompanied by the Angel, here sung in a warm and radiant mezzo-soprano by Felicity Buckland – her recurring “Alleluia” managing to pierce the heart on each occasion. The choirs gave their all in a powerful Demons’ Chorus with the orchestra giving fine support with their fierce fugal writing, and later a gleaming Praise to the Holiest with its tremendous, long crescendo and build to the shattering C major climax. There were a few occasions when the orchestra overpowered the singers but in general the performance was well balanced and always well-paced by the conductor. Edward Grint gave a searing account of the Angel of the Agony before the final beauty of “Softly and gently” and the choir’s “Lord, Thou has been our refuge”.
Elgar wrote in his score “This is the best of me” and that may well be true. In this loving, affectionate and ultimately passionate performance we were shown the power of music and the joy it can bring.