Hallé Orchestra / Mark Elder

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius

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For listeners who thought the day for great recordings of Elgar's sacred masterpiece The Dream of Gerontius was over, this 2008 recording by Mark Elder and the Hallé proves that in fact that day is not yet done. As they had in their magnificent recent recordings of the same composer's First Symphony and Enigma Variations, Elder and the Hallé again turn in performances rivaling the best ever made. From a purely technical point of view, Elder is a skilled conductor who knows exactly how to balance the huge forces before him for maximum clarity and exactly how to drive them for maximum effectiveness. Similarly, the Hallé -- once Manchester's Hallé Orchestra until dropping the surname -- is a highly polished ensemble with rich strings, characterful woodwinds, and powerful brass whose virtuosity matches the best playing of the London orchestras. But while that's all well, good, and necessary, what really distinguishes Elder and the Hallé's Gerontius is their belief in the greatness of the music. There is tremendous depth of feeling in the performance and terrific conviction in the interpretation, as if the work were no religious artifact from a bygone sentimental era but a universal masterpiece that speaks to human spirituality for all times. With the inestimable contributions of soprano Alice Coote, tenor Paul Groves, and particularly baritone Bryn Terfel, the soloists are at the same level of the orchestra, and with the overwhelming clarity and impact of the Hallé's digital recordings, the sound here is at the same level as the best major-label releases. Anyone who loves Elgar and his Dream should try this performance; it is exceedingly unlikely that they will be disappointed.

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