OP1702. THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS (Elgar), Live Performance, 20 Nov., 1957, w.Barbirolli Cond. RAI Ensemble; Jon Vickers, Constance Shacklock & Marian Nowakowski; Barbirolli Cond. Hallé Orch.: Symphonie fantastique (Berlioz), recorded 2 Jan, 1947. (Germany) 2-Archipel 0403. - 4035122404036
“THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS is a work for voices and orchestra in two parts composed by Edward Elgar in 1900, to text from the poem by John Henry Newman. The work was composed for the Birmingham Music Festival of 1900; the first performance took place on 3 October 1900, in Birmingham Town Hall. The piece is widely regarded as Elgar's finest choral work, and some consider it his masterpiece.
THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS received its U.S. premiere on 23 March 1903 at The Auditorium, Chicago, conducted by Harrison M. Wild. It was given in New York, conducted by Walter Damrosch three days later. It was performed in Sydney, Australia, in 1903. The first performance in Vienna was in 1905; the Paris premiere was in 1906; and by 1911 the work received its Canadian premiere in Toronto under the baton of the composer.
In the first decades after its composition leading performers of the tenor part included Gervase Elwes and John Coates, and Louise Kirkby Lunn, Elena Gerhardt and Julia Culp were admired as the Angel. Later singers associated with the work include Muriel Foster, Clara Butt, Kathleen Ferrier, and Janet Baker as the Angel, and Heddle Nash, Steuart Wilson and Richard Lewis as Gerontius.
Sir Henry Wood made acoustic recordings of four extracts from THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS as early as 1916, with Clara Butt as the angel. Edison Bell issued the work in 1924 with Elgar's tacit approval (despite his contract with HMV); acoustically recorded and abridged, it was swiftly rendered obsolete by the introduction of the electrical process, and soon after withdrawn. HMV issued live recorded excerpts from two public performances conducted by Elgar in 1927, with the soloists Margaret Balfour, Steuart Wilson, Tudor Davies, Herbert Heyner, and Horace Stevens.
The work has come to be generally regarded as Elgar's finest choral composition. The authors of The Record Guide [Sackville-West, p. 254], writing in 1956 when Elgar's music was comparatively neglected, said, ‘Anyone who doubts the fact of Elgar's genius should take the first opportunity of hearing THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS, which remains his masterpiece, as it is his largest and perhaps most deeply felt work’."
“Jon Vickers was a singing actor of overwhelming impact, his performances driven by a unique fusion of sensitivity, intelligence, brute force, and stubborn individuality [noted for] his contradictions, his frailties, his eloquence, and his egocentricity. He also was a rather enigmatic figure who avoided conventional paths to operatic glory.”
- Martin Bernheimer