Archive – The Dream of Gerontius

July 2, 2008

Added to the archive the concert programme for “The Dream of Gerontius”

Edward Elgar

The Dream of Gerontius

Richard Smith – Conductor

Daniel Norman – Tenor

Cathy Bell – Mezzo Soprano

Edward Rowntree – Bass

The Stanford Ensemble

Oxford Symphony Orchestra

Saturday 5th April 2008

Wantage Parish Church, 7.30pm

Programme £1


Daniel Norman



Cathy Bell

Mezzo Soprano

The Angel

Edward Rowntree


The Priest

The Angel of the Agony




Jesu, Maria -1 am near to death


Kyrie eleison


Rouse thee, my fainting soul


Be merciful, be gracious


Sanctus fortis, Sanctus Deus


I can no more; for now it comes again


Rescue him, O Lord


Novissima hora est

The Priest:

Proficiscere, anima Christiana


Go, in the name of Angels




The Soul:

I went to sleep

The Angel:

My work is done

The Angel and The Soul:

All hail, My child!


Low-born clods of brute earth

The Angel:

It is the restless panting of their being


The mind bold and independent

The Soul and The Angel:

I see not those false spirits


Praise to the Holiest

The Soul:

The sound is like the rushing of the wind


Glory to Him

The Angel and The Soul:

They sing of thy approaching agony

The Soul:

But hark! a grand mysterious harmony

The Angel:

And now the threshold


Praise to the Holiest

The Angel and The Soul:

Thy judgment now is near

The Angel of the Agony:

Jesu! by that shuddering dread


Be merciful, be gracious

The Angel:

Praise to His Name!

The Soul:

Take me away


Lord, Thou hast been our refuge

The Angel:

Softly and gently


Lord, Thou has been our refuge

Praise to the Holiest


In The Dream of Gerontius we follow the progress of a soul, on his deathbed, through the process of dying and his journey after the point of death.  The oratorio opens with an orchestral prelude, in which we hear many of the significant themes used by Elgar as the story unfolds. Gerontius tells us that he is dying and that Jesus is calling him home. He lies on his deathbed, surrounded by a group of friends, who are represented by the choir, at this point, singing Kyrie eleison – Lord have mercy on us.  After another short solo from Gerontius (Rouse thee my fainting soul), the chorus continues with prayers for the dying man. (Be merciful, be gracious, spare him, Lord).  Gerontius declares his faith in the words (Firmly I believe and truly, God is three and God is one). As he meditates on his final illness. he sees a vision of the demons he will encounter later. The choir prays for Gerontius to be rescued, in the way that God rescued some famous figures from the Old Testament – Noah, Job, Moses and David (Rescue him O Lord).  Gerontius’ life gently slips away as he commends his soul to God (Into thy hands ….).  Shortly we meet the priest who sends Gerontius’ soul on its journey. (Proficiscere, anima Christiana – Go forth upon thy journey Christian soul.). Part One ends with a magnificent chorus (Go in the name of Angels and Archangels).

The second part continues the story after Gerontius’ death.  Gentle strings and woodwind play a prelude and Gerontius (now The Soul) awakes.   All is calm and the trauma of his death is behind him (I went to sleep and now I am refreshed).  Realising that he is not alone on his travels, he meets his guardian angel, who, exultant that she is reaching the culmination of her work, tells him what is to happen next. He is speeding towards the throne of God where he will be judged, but first he must pass the demons ‘Hungry and wild, to claim their property, and gather souls for hell’.  The choir sings the demonic chorus. (Low-born clods of brute earth).   Gerontius, who can hear but not see the demons, asks the Angel if he will see God when he arrives at the judgement hall.  When he is told  that he will for ‘a brief moment’, he is awed by the prospect.

As Gerontius and the Angel arrive at the judgement hall, the first echoes are heard of what eventually builds into the choral climax of the whole work (Praise to the Holiest in the Height). This great chorus ends in a blaze of sound, after which the mood darkens.  Gerontius and the Angel are now in the presence of God.  We meet the final character in the drama, the Angel of the Agony – a second role for the bass soloist. Before Gerontius ‘goes before his judge’, the Angel of the Agony asks Jesus to spare his soul.

The orchestra produces a shattering, explosive chord; in an instant, Gerontius is judged and spared, his soul ‘consumed yet quickened by the glance of God’.

When Gerontius begs to be taken on to Purgatory (Take me away and in the lowest deeps there let me be), the Angel gently leads him onward, (Softly and gently, dearly ransomed soul, in my most loving arms I now enfold thee). The work ends as the Angel and the choir bid Gerontius ‘Farewell, but not forever’.


The Dream of Gerontius is a setting of Cardinal Newman’s eponymous poem. Elgar had been familiar with the poem from the time of its composition and had long thought of setting it to music. In 1898, when he was invited to write a major work for the 1900 Birmingham Triennial Music Festival, he seized the chance to do so.

Although The Dream of Gerontius is now an established favourite among choral societies, at the time of its first performance it was the subject of much controversy. The first problem was that Newman, a convert to Catholicism, had written a poem imbued with Catholic theology. Elgar, also a Roman Catholic, found that the poem accorded well with his beliefs. In our age of relative toleration, most people would find this unexceptional, but at the start of the twentieth century there was still widespread prejudice against Catholicism and Catholics. Indeed, when a performance of Gerontius was proposed in Worcester Cathedral for the 1902 Three Choirs Festival, permission was only granted once the text was modified and references to Mary, Purgatory and Masses removed.

The second problem was with the music itself. There is a long tradition of performing oratorio in England, which dates back to Handel. This tradition received a great boost in the mid-19th century, with the great success of works such as Mendelssohn’s Elijah. These oratorios were traditionally made up of discrete recitatives, arias and choruses; operas were composed in the same way. A sea change occurred, when Richard Wagner revolutionised opera, dispensing with the traditional form in favour of a continuous stream of music, more symphonic in style than had been heard before. Elgar was the first composer to apply these ideas to oratorio. The choral performers of the time found it difficult to come to terms with the music, which was outside their normal experience.

The first performance, in Birmingham, conducted by the renowned Hans Richter, was not a success. In addition to the problems mentioned above, this was due to a lack of rehearsal time and the unfortunate death of the chorus master. Hans Richter, having conducted the first successful perfomances in Germany, was instrumental in the regeneration of interest in the work, which has now become one of the most popular in the choral repertoire.

Richard Smith (Conductor)

Richard was appointed conductor of the Wantage Choral Society in 2005. He started training choirs in earnest as an undergraduate at the University of Birmingham where he directed the University Chamber Choir. In 1995 he won an M.J. West Memorial Scholarship to study in Scandinavia and in 1998 he was awarded the Royal College of Organists’ John Brook Prize for Choir Directing. He took his postgraduate studies on the harpsichord with Lars Ulrik Mortensen in Munich, and later on the organ with Harald Vogel at the North German Organ Academy.

From 2001 to 2005 he was the organist at St Mary’s Church in Stoke D’Abernon, home of the famous Frobenius instrument, where he gave over forty concerts and established the professional choir. In 2005 he was appointed Director of Music at the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Reading. He conducts a number of amateur and professional ensembles in the South East of England and is the director of The Liturgical Music Courses, a series of annual week-long courses for adults based in English cathedrals (www.liturgicalmusic.co.uk).

The Oxford Symphony Orchestra

The origins of the Oxford Symphony Orchestra date back to 1902, when Dr Hugh Allen founded the Orchestra, initially for choral work. In May 1903, a concert by “Dr Allen’s Orchestra” took place in the Town Hall. In 1978, the orchestra adopted its present name, and developed its reputation for performances of large-scale works by many of the great composers under the directorship of Robert Secret. In 1996, Leon Gee was appointed as Music Director. He continued to raise standards of performance, whilst exploring both the Romantic and twentieth century repertoire. Robert Max is in his third season as Music Director of Oxford Symphony Orchestra. He has widespread experience as both a conductor and cellist, and has already made a significant impact on the orchestra in repertoire and audience accessibility. The orchestra aims to provide opportunities for soloists known both locally and nationally. Recent soloists have included Zoe Beyers (Berg Violin Concerto) and Pip Eastop (Strauss Horn Concerto). The new season sees the Orchestra working for the first time with Natalie Clein (cello) and Mark van de Wiel (clarinet).

The next concert is on Saturday 21 June 2008 at 7:30pm in St Aldates Church, when the orchestra performs:

Schubert Rosamunde overture

Weber Clarinet Concerto no 2

Brahms Symphony no 3

The Stanford Ensemble (Leader – Eleanor Stanford) is a London based offshoot of the Stanford Quartet, formed by sisters Eleanor, Laura and Amy Stanford during their time at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1999 the Stanford Quartet was pleased to be awarded a scholarship to attend the Chillingirian String Quartet course at West Dean College and in 2000 won the John.B.McEwan Quartet Prize performing the Ravel string quartet. The following year saw them as prize winners in the Sir Arthur Bliss competition with a performance of the Bliss oboe quintet and in 2002 the quartet entered the Wigmore Hall Competition, succeeding to the semi-finals performing Beethoven and Debussy.

The Stanford Quartet has had the pleasure of working with various artists including Kenneth Sillito, Simon Blendis, Thomas Brandis and Mark Messenger, as well as established quartets such as Alberni, Amadeus, Chillingirian, Skampa and Vanburugh. They were also privileged to work with eminent Israeli pianist David Dolan on the art of classical improvisation. The Stanford Quartet feels very passionately about education and enjoys working in this field. In 2005 they were invited to take part in masterclasses and workshops with children from East End schools for The London String Quartet Foundation. This culminated with a day at the Museum of London giving performances of “ City Life”, a collaboration of music and dance based on the quartet ‘Out of Time’ by Jonothan Dove. Through this the quartet was subsequently invited to be part of Musicbox, a programme designed to introduce musical awareness for children aged 0-4yrs. Each member of the quartet has individual teaching experience as well as working for Wendy Max at ‘First String Experience’ (RAM) and at the Hendon Music School run by Laura Stanford.

Daniel Norman – Tenor

Daniel studied at Oxford and subsequently in the US, Canada and at the R.A.M. He made his debuts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with Trevor Pinnock, the RFH with David Atherton, the Wigmore Hall with Graham Johnson, the Aldeburgh Festival with David Parry and at the Barbican with Hickox.

Concert performances have included Britten War Requiem in Warsaw, Schumann Lieder with Julius Drake, Wozzeck with Daniel Harding and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Evangelist in St John Passion at the RFH, Tippett A Child of Our Time with the CBSO and the Northern Sinfonia, Britten Les Illuminations and Mozart Requiemwith Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic, Die schöne Müllerin at the Holywell Music Room, Britten Nocturne with Edward Gardner at St John’s Smith Square, Britten Serenade in Tel Aviv, Britten St Nicolas at the Gulbenkian, Stravinsky Les Noces with Martha Argerich, St Matthew Passion at the Concertgebouw, Holst Savitri with the Nash Ensemble, the role of Sam Kaplan in Weill’s Street Scenes at the Proms and regular appearances at the Three Choirs, Cheltenham, Chelsea, Lichfield and Endellion Festivals.

He has made several recordings including four volumes for the Hyperion Schubert Edition with Graham Johnson, Beethoven 9th Symphony with the Minnesota Orchestra (nominated for a Grammy in Dec 2007), Maintop in Billy Budd with Hickox and the LSO, Adès Powder Her Face, Slender in Sir John in Love by Vaughan Williams with the Northern Sinfonia, Janacek Sedmdesat Tisic with the New London Chamber Choir, Orff’s Carmina Burana (Meridian), Brett Dean’s Winter Songs with the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet (BIS) and Hugh Wood’s Comus with the BBCSO and Sir Andrew Davies.

Engagements in 2008 include a Wigmore recital, Nixon in China in Verona, St John Passion for The King’s Consort, Bob Boles Peter Grimes at the Endellion Festival, Judas The Last Supper for London Sinfonietta, Mines of Sulphur at the Wexford Festival and Carmina Burana at the RAH. Subsequent engagements include Martinu’s Mirandolina at Garsington. 2008 also sees the release of his debut solo CD: Britten Winter Words and Who Are These Children? with Christopher Gould on BIS records.

Cathy Bell – Mezzo Soprano

Cathy Bell was a soprano choral scholar at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, before switching to mezzo in 2006 and taking up a one-year postgraduate place at Birmingham Conservatoire. Recent opera roles have included Dorabella (Mozart, Così fan tutte) and Zulma (Rossini, L’Italiana in Algeri) for Conservatoire opera scenes; cover for Cherubino (Mozart, Le nozze di Figaro); River God (Locke, Psyche) at the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham; Third Lady/Third Boy (Mozart, The Magic Flute) directed by Samuel West, in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah (Palestine Mozart Festival); and the mezzo role in Ed Hughes’s operatic two-hander The Devil’s Drum at the Arcola Theatre in London. In 2007 Cathy reached the final of the Les Azuriales Opera Young Singers Competition, contributing to a concert at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Nice. She works as a consort singer with groups such as Polyphony, the Choir of London and English Voices, and gives regular recitals. Recent oratorio work includes Handel Messiah and Mozart Requiem in Oxford, and Haydn Nelson Mass with Simon Halsey and the CBSO in Birmingham Symphony Hall. Forthcoming engagements include recitals in Oxford and Birmingham, opera scenes at the Deddington Festival, and a concert performance of Bizet’s Carmen (title role).

Edward Rowntree – Bass

Edward began singing at an early age at Douai Abbey (near Reading) and joined the Berkshire Youth Choir aged 13 with whom he undertook three European tours as choir-member, soloist and violinist. After leaving he accompanied the choir as a member of staff on tours to Italy, Estonia, Latvia and Sweden.

Whilst at reading law at Christ Church, Oxford he held a choral bursary in the Chapel Choir of Exeter College and at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin for two years before singing in his last year with Christ Church Cathedral Choir.

Since leaving Oxford he was a lay clerk at St. James’s, Spanish Place for a number of years and although busy running a thriving chancery and commercial barrister’s practice he maintains his singing at a high level not only with a number of the foremost professional church choirs in the capital but also as a soloist at provincial concerts. He is a full time member of the Douai Abbey Singers with whom he has sung both at Westminster Cathedral, London and Notre-Dame, Paris.

Away from singing and the law, Edward enjoys climbing mountains, skiing down them and the opportunity to practice his rustic French with understanding winemakers.

The Society would like to thank

the sponsor of this programme


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